Learn about the following species groups (including their most common members, as well as purchasing, storage and cooking information), or select a specific species from the species list on the right.
About 500 species of squids exist worldwide, ranging in size from 2.5cm to the largest invertebrate on Earth, the infamous giant squid, measuring up to 18m long and weighing 900kg - a 15m long specimen was found washed up on Seven Mile Beach in eastern Tasmania in 2002, weighing 250kg.
Technically squids are molluscs, although, unlike other molluscs, the subgroup to which they belong, cephalopods (which includes octopus and cuttlefish), don’t have external shells (with one exception*) and have an ink sac, from which they squirt a thick black ink to help distract predators. Most of them can also rapidly change colour, another handy survival technique. Squids have long, cylindrical bodies (also called a mantle, hood or tube) with 8 shorter arms and 2 longer tentacles and a thin, translucent, feather-shaped internal shell (called a quill or gladius fin), which is made from chitin, a plastic-like material from which prawn shells are also made. They are found in oceans and estuaries all over the world, from intertidal waters to great depths. In Australia, ‘calamari’, the Italian word for ‘squids’, is used specifically for squid species with side fins running the full length of their bodies rather than the relatively shorter side fins of other squids; they are often more tender than other squids too.
There are five main squid species found in Australia:
Loligo Squid (Uroteuthis chinensis and other Uroteuthis species), also known as Hawkesbury squid, have mottled pinky-purple skin, long thin bodies and pointy side fins that run about half their length. Typically they are about 20cm long and weigh 100g and are found in estuaries along the NSW coast.
Luminous Bay Squid (Loliolus noctiluca), also called bottle squid, have small squat bodies (maximum length about 8cm) and are found right along the Australian east coast. They’re named for their ability to glow in order to hide their silhouette from potential predators.
Gould’s Squid (Nototodarus gouldi), also known as arrow, torpedo, or seined, squid, have smooth, light brownish-pink skin with a purpley-blue stripe running down the tube. They average 300-500g and 23cm mantle length and are found around the southern Australian coast from southern Queensland to Geraldton in WA.
Southern Calamari(Sepioteuthis australis) have mottled purpley-brown skin with long, rounded side fins running almost the full length of their bodies. They are typically 300-500g and 16-20cm mantle length and are common in coastal bays around southern Australia from Brisbane to Shark Bay in WA, with most of the commercial catch coming from SA.
Northern Calamari(Sepioteuthis lessoniana) have thick, dark browny-green bodies with long side fins running almost their full length. They average 500g-1kg and 20-30cm mantle length and are found around Australia’s northern coast from northern NSW to south of Shark Bay in WA. Most of the commercial catch comes from southern Queensland in winter.
When purchasing fresh whole squid look for intact bright skin, with a light brown to purple mottled appearance and intact head, arms and tentacles. Cleaned tubes should be white without any brown markings.
Make sure squid are gutted and cleaned thoroughly. Wrap in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months below -18ºC.
To clean whole squid: grasp the arms and pull firmly to separate head from tube (try not to break the ink sac, as the ink stains), cut below the eyes and discard head and guts, push beak (mouth) out from between the arms. Remove quill, peel skin off by grasping side fins and peeling around the tube. Side fins can be peeled and used; tentacles can also be washed and used. Cut tube open along the obvious seam, lay out flat and wipe the inside firmly with a clean damp cloth to remove any remaining gut and membrane, or, if cutting into rings, slice into several sections, turn inside out and wipe, then slice into rings. Once cleaned it can be sliced into thin strips, or scored in a cross-hatch pattern (honeycombing) and sliced into larger chunks. It is also possible to cook squid without peeling them, the skin will turn a dark purple as it cooks. The average yield is 80%. Gould’s squid are generally larger and tougher than other squids; they have hard suckers which must be sliced off their arms and tentacles and the flesh of larger specimen can be tenderised with a meat mallet. Other squids and calamari have similar texture to one another and are largely interchangeable in recipes.
Squid should be cooked either quickly over high heat or for a long time over low heat, otherwise the flesh will be tough and chewy. Either way it has a mild flavour and firm texture and will marry well with almost any flavouring. It is suitable for a wide variety of preparations, whole tubes can be stuffed and baked, strips or rings can be dusted in seasoned flour and deep-fried or marinated and char-grilled or stir-fried.
Cuttlefish, a close cousin of squids, can be substituted in most recipes calling for squid or calamari (though you’ll need 40-50% more as the yield is lower); they have broader, thicker bodies and their thicker calcified internal shell is most often seen in birds’ cages. It is cuttlefish ink, rather than squid ink, which is traditionally used to colour black risotto and pasta. Another relation, octopus, can also be substituted in some recipes. One rarely seen species of cephalopod, the pearly nautilus*, does have an external shell.