Cleaning tentacled sea monsters: Squid

Cleaning tentacled sea monsters: Squid

Frequently when squid are fished out of marine water they are frozen on the spot. Therefore, a lot or most of the squid that arrives to market and to our table has been previously frozen. Luckily this does not compromise the flavour or texture and keeps the cephalopod fresh.

Most fish markets sell squid cleaned, the body (hood or mantel) separated from the tentacles. This of course raises their price and does not affect freshness, but if you are game for jumping as much of the food process as possible before you buy, then cleaning squid is for you.

2 sieves
1 bowl
1 knife

Place the uncleaned squid all together in a sieve, rinse under cold running water and set aside in the sink.

Leave a small trickle of water from the tap running. This will ease the cleaning, enabling you to rinse the squid parts and your hands as you work.

Take a squid and hold it with one hand around the base of the neck, below the tentacles and close to the rim of the body. With the other hand hold the body. Pull, or gently tug the body and the tentacles apart. This will divide the squid into two, leaving you with the body on one hand and the tentacles with the organs and innards attached, in the other hand.

Along the organ section, that looks like a cloudy white long mass, you will find (in practically every squid) a dark silver lined sack about 1 to 2 cm long. This where the ink is. Gently remove it and set aside if you are to use the ink for a specific recipe. The ink imparts a delectable flavour, I use it as often as possible, perhaps omitting it when making a squid salad, for which a crystalline glimmer is sought.

Cut the organs and innards from the head with a knife, just below the eyes, on either side. In other words, you can decide to leave the eyes on together with the tentacles or remove them. The eyes are edible and flavoursome, but nevertheless a choice. The eyes are also a good measure for the freshness of the squid. They should be clear, shiny and crystalline.

Hold one of the heads up exposing the mouth, which is located on the center bottom side of the tentacles, and lightly pinch the head. This will extrude the mouth, a white cartilage knob with a black beak in the middle. Pull it off with your fingers. This will leave you with an orifice in the middle of the underside of the head and tentacles. Now the tentacles are ready for cooking or eating. Set aside in the bowl for the cleaned bits.

Hold the body with the opening towards you and find the pointed tip along the rim. This is the tip of the squid’s spine, a thin transparent quill-like cartilage. Pull on it. More often than not it will come out in one piece, with two minor indents two-thirds along both sides. If the whole quill does not come out at once you can work out what may remain when cleaning the body.

Purge the body cavity of any remaining organs, innards or quill bits by squeezing or pulling them out with a finger, followed by a thorough rinse. Peel the freckled thin skin off the body. This is another good indicator of the freshness. Fresh squid’s skin peels off easily and reveals a glistening mostly off-white body. Now the body is clean and ready to be set aside in the cleaned squid bowl.

Note: If you are not going to cook or eat the squid right away, store properly covered in the lower shelf of a fridge.

Depending on how you plan to cook the squid you will either:

Separate the lateral fins from the body
By cutting or pulling them off. Usually done for stuffed squid

Cut the body in rings

Slice the body open
By cutting along one side and opening it out. This cut can be used to score the outer side and create a texture, good for holding sauces.

Divide the tentacles
Cut them in half or quarters when they are relatively large. Typically when blanching for salads or to make the tentacle bits bite size.

Ink sacks
Can be added whole or crushed to sauces whilst cooking to add dark colour and flavour

Tenderness and cooking
Unfortunately squid has a bad rap for being tough, rubbery or chewy. This can be the case, but not necessary at all. There are several ways of cooking squid

Blanched: dropped in boiling water for no more than 2 minutes

Long cooking: in a sauce or liquid for no less than 30 minutes

Sautéed: quick as for blanching

Fried: in hot oil for 2 – 3 minutes until lightly browned

Baked: with sauce, same as long cooking, no less than 30 minutes


About Bubu

When I visualise the world I see a pan, in it are the earth, air and water, they symbolise literature, science and maths, the languages are the medium, culture and civilisation are the art, and the people are the recipe. Bubu is my given nickname, just as María Isabel Alvarez Kirkham, is my birth name. I am a graphic designer and artist focused on spacial and sensory communication, with work ranging from visual communication design to installation art.


  1. Pingback: Tentacled sea monsters swimming with green friends | Herd & Ofen

  2. A lot of work! But I think that in your pictures one SQUID is missing, don’t you think?? 😉

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