Squid are one of the most amazing creatures in the ocean, they’re smart, they’re curious, they can camoflage themselves, and… they’re extremely delicious. Which is probably why Russell Brown’s friend Kerry pestered me to put up this post! Kerry, apologies for this taking so long, seafood was kept of the menu by Chef Du Plunge.

A further great thing about squid is that with the decimation of the world’s stocks of predator fish (like tuna), squid are abundant. It’s therefore our illogical duty  to bring balance to the force, and eat many, many squid.

Cuttlefish are a closely related species that differs mainly in the arrangement of the swim-fins. In Melbourne I learned cleaning these things on cuttlefish, but the difference isn’t too great.

So, what do you look for in a squid? The one pictured is from Moore Wilsons and cost a whopping $3.30. As you’ll see, it’s easily enough to be the protein in a meal for two.

What you’ll need is about half a kilo of squid, a sharp knife, and an apron. This is a messy business.

The thing to look for when selecting a squid or cuttlefish is the colour around the swim-fins. If it is too yellow, and not a translucent white, then the animal has been frozen and defrosted too long. This makes it risky, and less tasty. Also, if you’re cleaning the squid and the gut stinks, and I mean *really* stinks, then it’s probably bad. Take my advice and cut your losses now.

Back in the kitchens the squid was sometimes so fresh its skin still shimmered through different colours… poor, delicious little blighters.

And we’re off!

There are three main parts to the squid.

The head, shown to the right, which only really provides the arms (or “tentacles”) to eat. The mantle, below and left, which is the ‘body’ or ‘tube’, which provides the main eating. And the swim fins, below and right , which are also good eating.

The idea of cleaning a squid is to separate the arms from the head, remove the beak, empty the gut out of the mantle, de-skin the entire carcass, and separate the fins.

This all pretty straightforward. There are only really two tricks, getting the cuttle out, and getting it’s skin off.

I’m assuming that most vegetarians have stopped reading by now.

The very first thing to do is to cut away the arms. This is easy enough. Feel in front of the eyes and there will be a hard “knob” of something inside the arms. This is the squid’s mouth.

Take a sharp knife and cut in front of the eyes, but behind the arms.

It’s not easy to see from the shot on the above right, but if you look at the squid in the back ground there is a circular hole. This contains the beak.

Once you’ve taken the arms off you’ll be able to just rip this out of the centre of the cluster. You’ll know what you’ve got because you’ll be able to pop out the small beak, as shown on the right.

FACTOID: Did you know that very large squid result in Sperm whales creating ambergris, a waxy,  amber-like substance in their gut to coat these indigestible beaks? In the C19th ambergris was a highly sought-after substance used to make perfumes.

Now we get to the bit that requires the apron. Cleaning the gut is a messy business. This squid must have lost its ink when it was fished, but many will spill when you start to clean. Make sure you’re prepared for mess. I would usually have conducted this part over or in the sink, but the light was too bad to take photos.

The idea is to reach in behind the head with your fingers, and drag the gut out as the head comes away. Here on the left I’ve inserted two fingers up along the inside of the mantle behind the head, then taken a good grip on the tail. I’ve dug my fingers in, twisted, and ripped out as much of the gut as possible.

There will still be gut in there, so what you need to do is get our fingers in and dig it all out. It’s a messy, stinky business. If the ink hasn’t spilled during the removal of the head, it will now. Many people save the ink for eating with pasta. Personally it doesn’t do anything for me.

Once the head is out, drag out the cuttle. This can actually be tricky, because the cuttle is lodged within the meat of the mantle.

In this case you can see the cuttle in the above right photo (it’s a translucent “pen” poking out of the mantle). It is in effect the spine of the squid, and is where you’d expect a spine to be. This one has already come loose, but usually you need to dig your fingers into the top of the mantle, and get a good grip on it, then slide it out. It will stick at first, but once it starts to come away it should slip on out.

Finally, place the squid on the board, hold it down, and run your fingers from the rear to the front to slide out any gut remaining.

Next, wash out the mantle over the sink to get rid of any muck. Take a little look inside, and if any “gut-sack” looking bits remain, just whip them out now.

And then the *really* tricky bit. Getting the fins and skin off. The swim fins of cephalopods are joined to the mantle with a bit of cartilege. What you need to do is dig your thumb into some part of the gristle, then run it sideways until the fin separates from the body.

This squid was difficult to dig into, so I knicked the cartilege with a knife, dug in, then peeled away the fins.

Then… getting the skin off. You can leave it on, but it goes kind of rubbery when you cook it, so, not so good.

If you’re not confident then start with the swim fins. The idea is straight forward enough. Essentially you’re scraping the skin off with the knife. I’m using my sharp knife, but you should use a relatively blunt one to start off with. All you need do is scrape the knife across the skin with a slight, but not forceful, downward pressure. The skin will start to peel and you encourage it with short, sharp flicks.

As you can probably make out in the above photos, the darker skin is peeling back, leaving the white flesh underneath. Continue scraping until all of the skin is removed from both sides of the fins. Then, start on the mantle. You can do this by running the knife in a consistent direction.

A trick is that sometime the skin is relatively thick. You can get around this by digging a thin and sharp knife like the one shown under the skin and lifting it a little before scraping.

If you’re having trouble, don’t fret, this is actually difficult to learn. It took kilos of squid-cleaning to get this right.

Once the skin is off, you’re set! Rinse the carcass all over, and you’re good to start cutting it for eating. First though, do one final bit of cleaning. Cut off the narrow back end of the mantle, and squeeze out any last bit of gut you couldn’t reach before.

Then, clean the arms and tentacles. There are two ways to do this. You can either run your hands along the arms and pop out the small bits of teeth-like circular cartilage on each and every arm, and the two tentacles. But this is very time-consuming, and many people who are squeamish about “tentacles” don’t like this.

I often use the method on the right, which is to trim away all the suckers and other bits from the arms and tentacles. It’s not difficult, but is fiddly.

And you’re finally ready to cut for eating! This is really easy compared to the remainder of the job.

What I have here on the right is:

  • One single piece of swim-fin
  • One mantle
  • The tentacles and arms, all trimmed away from the circular mouth area.

The idea now is to cut up all the bits ready for cooking. First, take the mantle and cut away the edge. There is often still little bits of skin on there. Then, just cut it into a set of rings.

After that, slice the swim-fin into strips. There will be a bit of cartilage in the centre of the fin which you’ll want to discard.

Next, cut the arms and tentacles into halves or thirds, and cut the mouth-piece into segments.

And there you have it, 324g of cleaned squid for $3.30 + your time!!

Cooking it? Just put it into a pan of medium heat with butter and a little garlic. Then eat with bread.

Or do something fancy. But that’s hard when you’re on a fishing trip 😉