How To Clean Squid Without Getting Inked

Although squid is often enjoyed in the U.S. as calamari, there are more ways to use and prepare this seafood besides frying it. Its tentacles and body tube, commonly cut into rings, are the familiar parts found in dishes like pasta, risotto, and fried calamari, but true gourmets know how valuable its ink is, too.

Primarily fished off the East Coast, longfin squid can be purchased, either fresh or frozen, from a fishmonger. Buying the squid whole and cleaning it yourself can cost a fraction of what you'd pay to have a fishmonger do it for you. Preparing the squid yourself also allows you to use its ink to flavor dishes, such as a squid ink pasta with seafood.

Because the ink is deeply saturated and stains easily, it's wise to cover your work surface (especially porous materials like marble countertops) and to wear rubber gloves and an apron. You'll need a knife, a cutting board, and a small bowl to collect the ink.

Begin by separating the head. Hold the tail and twist the head until it detaches. Then, use your knife to remove the tentacles from the squid's head by cutting just below the eyes. To remove the beak — a small bony piece of inedible cartilage — squeeze the connective tissue where the head and body were attached, and it should fall out. 

The head can be discarded, but since the innards contain the ink, set it aside as you prepare the body and tentacles for your recipe.

How to prepare squid

Inside the body tube of the squid, you'll find a shard of cartilage that needs to be removed. Grasp this flexible "bone" with your fingers and pull it out, cutting any leftover connective tissue with a knife. 

Although the skin is edible, many people prefer to remove it by peeling it away from the body like a sock. Discard the cartilage and skin and finish preparing the body by rinsing it in water to remove any remaining ink and innards from the tube. The body can be left whole and stuffed for a delicious lo mai gai-inspired dish, or sliced into half-inch rings for a light summer squid salad.

If you want to make use of the flavorful squid ink, even if not immediately, follow these steps: The ink sack is located in the innards you set aside earlier. Remove the black vein and puncture it with a knife; then, squeeze the ink into a bowl. To evenly distribute the concentrated color, it's best to dilute the ink with some liquid before adding it to a recipe. The ink can add a deep black color to fresh pasta, and saltiness to a dish.