A Common Cause for Confusion: Is Calamari Squid or Octopus?
When you order calamari at a restaurant, you are probably served something fried. But do you know what kind of seafood this is? Some would say it is an octopus, while others claim it is a squid. So, is calamari squid or octopus? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what calamari is, how it is commonly prepared, and what makes it so popular among seafood lovers.
Is Calamari Squid or Octopus?
Octopus and squid are two kinds of seafood that have plenty in common, so it’s easy to get them confused. They are both invertebrates and are cephalopods or mollusks with tentacles attached to their heads. Both squid and octopus are also commonly used in different cuisines.
But what about calamari? Is it a squid or an octopus?
Calamari is indeed squid. In fact, “calamari” is the Italian and Spanish term for squid. There is no difference between calamari and squid, but most restaurants tend to use the term “calamari” on their menus because it sounds more appealing than just squid.
How Is Calamari Typically Cooked?
Squid or calamari have long bodies with short, bright reddish tentacles. You can purchase squid fresh or frozen and cut it into rings.
The meat of calamari or squid has a smooth texture and is solid and soft when cooked properly.
But cooking squid is a skill. It requires the perfect balance of heat and timing, or you’d end up with rubbery squid that is hard to chew. Or you could end up serving undercooked squid that’ll make you swear off the dish forever.
So, the key to cooking squid perfectly is to cook it quickly over high heat or very slowly over low fire. The cooking methodology should be extreme, whether you are sautéing, stir-frying, grilling, searing, roasting, boiling, or deep frying.
Using medium heat will result in your calamari becoming tough to chew. So, using the highest or lowest heat will give you soft and supple squid with an appealing texture.
The most famous squid dish is fried squid rings or calamari, which is typically flavored with pepper and salt and then sprinkled with a dash of lemon. It’s a simple dish that makes for a sumptuous appetizer or snack with a cold beer.
Aside from deep frying it, you can also grill squid and serve it with a fresh salad. It can also be stuffed with vegetables and then steamed. One of the best ingredients that go well with calamari is butter and other herbal sauces since squid is pretty absorbent.
How Do Squid and Octopus Differ?
An octopus is easiest to recognize because of its long tentacles and short and round head. In terms of size, it is relatively much larger than a squid.
Octopus meat also commonly features in Caribbean, Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean, and Portuguese dishes.
So, despite the difference in taste and texture, the reason octopuses are often confused with calamari is that the method of cooking is the same.
Compared to squid, which has a lobster or shrimp-like taste, an octopus has a milder flavor that can be likened to pork and chicken. It is also a low-calorie protein, which is why many people opt for octopus for filling and nutritious meat.
This delicacy is often grilled, boiled, or poached, while many, especially in Southeast Asia, prefer to enjoy octopus raw. It is best served grilled or as a carpaccio or ceviche.
So, now that we know that calamari and squid are the same and differ significantly from octopus, what tastes better? Is it still calamari or octopus?
Many would say that octopus has a richer taste, largely because it soaks up the flavors of whatever herbs, sauces, and marinades it is cooked with. For example, your typical sesame oil can make the otherwise bland octopus taste nutty and sweet.
Other Differences Between Squid and Octopus
Apart from the taste and texture, here are other notable differences between squid and octopus:
#1. Both have dark ink that subtly adds to the flavor and to the color of the octopus or squid dish you are preparing. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that octopus has jet-black ink color while squid has dark-blue ink.
And like its meat, octopus ink is also bland. On the other hand, squid ink — if you have the guts to taste it — tastes salty with an almost earthy flavor. You can even use it to add salinity to your dish.
#2. Fried octopus and fried calamari rings also have differences. Fried calamari is often made from the squid’s head. Meanwhile, you can’t get rings from an octopus’ head because it is too small and often discarded when cooking. What is served, however, are octopus tentacles.
Squids also have tentacles, but you’ll know it’s an octopus if the suckers are sizable compared to the smaller squid tentacles.
So, the squid’s head is typically what’s served in the form of calamari, whereas it’s the tentacle of an octopus that is commonly used in cooking.
#3. In terms of nutritional content, both squid and octopus are healthy options. Squid is lower in sugar and richer in minerals, whereas octopus has lower cholesterol and saturated fat. Both have equal glycemic indexes. So, it all comes down to preference and what meat you enjoy more.