What a wonder-creature! They are so elegant with their long mantle and complex set of tentacles, with prehistoric ancestry and fossils that go back 150 million years. For many people I know, dealing with these guys can be pretty intimidating, and not just because they as a species have existed for an incredible amount of time. The intimidation stems from being so accustomed to our meat, poultry, fish, and seafood being broken down, cleaned, de-boned, de-feathered, de-veined, de-whatevered for us that we loose any concept of what it is we are working with.
This, along with so many other conveniences contribute to the massive disconnect that affects the way people see or treat their food. When I took the squid out to begin cleaning it my friend was shocked to find that the things he loved most in a dish of good calamari were the tentacles coming from the head — he had believed them to be babies. Tiny squid babies! Another friend noted that she had never really thought about what form the animal was in, when she thought of squid she thought of rings of food and had therefore stopped considering their form altogether. Easy misconceptions!
Small reminders of just how removed we are from the animals we eat. I have yet to breakdown a cow or de-feather a chicken, I am just as guilty of this cognitive dissonance as most everyone else. But I think given the chance I would, I really would. If only to better understand the animals that I so often consume. To really know their form and anatomy, to appreciate the lives they were leading before that moment. So my squid brethren…this one’s for you.
How to Clean a Squid
First and foremost, do not be scared or intimidated. This whole process takes a minute or two once you get the hang of it. *small disclaimer – Not all of the photos are fantastic, taking pictures with slime on your hands isn’t easy, thank you to my friend Noa who grabbed a camera and snapped some wonderful shots for me!
ONE: Lay the squid on your cutting board and cut the two long tentacles that extend way beyond the length of the other tentacles. Discard.
TWO: Using your finger, reach inside the mantle or the body of the squid and feel around. You are looking to gently separate the innards from the outer ‘tube’.
THREE: Once you have sufficiently run your finger around on the inside, lay the squid back on the cutting board and applying a gentle pressure to the body of the squid, while holding by the base of its head just behind its eyes, give a small pull and you will drag the head and the innards out in one long sweeping motion.
Ta-DAAAAAAAAA! You are past the hardest part and for many people the squidgiest part, too! The above photo is a nice example of what you are looking for.
But sometimes you finish this step or you have trouble manuevering the innards out and you realize there is something inside keeping you from doing this properly. REMAIN CALM. There are probably just some small fish in there. Yep, you heard me, small fish. Now, I just did some research on the interweb as to why there are sometimes wittle fishies nestled inside the mantle of squid and so far I haven’t come up with an answer, I had originally assumed that the squid was eating when it died, they do eat fish after all. But the squid generally breaks apart its prey using a sharp beak before ingesting, and these fish were just hanging out inside his body, not inside his digestive system, and they were completely whole! Anyhoo, the following step is only relevant if this happens to you.
THREE AND A HALF: If you find fish inside you must reach in and pull them out. If that doesn’t work try rinsing the tube with cold water, perhaps you just need to loosen them from the inside membrane goo. Or if all else fails you can invert the tube a bit and get better access to the fish which should make it easier to remove. In my case I had a squid with 3 freaking fish inside!!
FOUR: Turn the squid body onto its ‘back’ and remove the fins at their base. (I say ‘back’ because squid don’t have backbones!)
FIVE: Running along the ‘back’ of the squid there is a long piece of cartilage, it literrally looks like a flat, clear piece of of plastic. If you feel inside you can note that this cartilage is attached to the body only at the top near the opening, use your finger to separate it and then drag the cartilage out. (no pic for this step but I swear you cannot mess it up.)
FIVE: Next it is time to get the tentacles from the head, to do this make just one cut in front of the eyes, you want to preserve the tentacles in one piece (so that it looks like a baby octopus…with no head?).
SIX: Pushing the tentacles back and exposing the mouth of the squid you will find a small black beak, continue pushing until the whole thing pops out in a little ball.
SEVEN: Cut the mantle or body of the squid into slices if you are cooking calamari or tossing into pasta or paella, leave the tubes whole if you intend to stuff them. I like 1″ slices because once they cook and curl they are amble enough in size to remain meaty. Any bigger and I find them cumbersome to chew.
THERE YOU HAVE IT, FOLKS! You are officially a squid master.
sidenote: I cooked up this beautiful squid with some butter and white wine and tons of herbs and garlic, tossed it through my pasta to make what I think is one of the tastiest little numbers with the least amount of effort…recipe coming soon!