"Almost forgetting for the moment all thoughts of Moby Dick, we now gazed at the most wondrous phenomenon which the secret seas have hitherto
revealed to mankind. A vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing cream-color, lay floating on the water, innumerable long arms radiating from its centre, and curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas, as if blindly to catch at any hapless object within reach. No perceptible face or front did it have; no conceivable token of either sensation or instinct; but undulated there on the
billows, an unearthly, formless, chance-like apparition of life."
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This carnivorous cephalopod comes in about 350 different species--some just an inch or two long; some that range through the ocean at a mammoth 50 feet (that's over half a basketball court--remember poor Kirk Douglas in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea!). They have 8 arms and 2 tentacles (which are usually kept retracted--then are unleashed to grab unsuspecting prey)--and they're shaped like torpedos, with fins on two sides.
The Loligo genus, which is an inshore species of the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, is most commonly fished and eaten, but many deep ocean species are also edible.
These beautiful, iridescent creatures lose a lot of their graceful charm once they're caught and plopped in a package, but it's definitely worth fighting through any squeamishness to clean them for eating--a true lesson in anatomy.
You've got to be careful of the ink sac--which contains the pigment known as sepia. Many people like to throw this delicacy out--and just as many people adore it and either use it as a flavoring and thickener, or just outright stew the squid in it.
Regardless, slit the torpedo carefully along the side, then strip out the innards--the ink sac and visceral sac (a yellowish pouch and its attached membranes) that are attached to the arms. Next, remove the cartilage--it looks like transparent collar stays--that helps the torpedo keep its shape. (If you want to stuff the torpedo--and it's perfect for it--don't slit it; rather just pull out the goods very carefully, then stick your finger around inside the torpedo to pop out the cartilage pieces.) Next, pop the arms back, which will extrude the hard beak and eyes of the squid--like a little white plug with a black ring on the end; you want to just pluck this away. Finally, cut the arms away from the ink sac and viscera. The only things you'll use are the arms and the torpedo. (Note: sometimes you'll find fresh squid partially cleaned, and only have to pop out the plug and feel for cartilage.) When the operation is over, wash well under running water before cutting or cooking.