Easy Squid Substitutes You Should Know About

Squid is a popular protein the world over — it's served raw in Japanese sashimi, or poached and stewed in Italian Frutti di Mare. However, it is somewhat difficult to find in the United States, despite the fact that it's affordable in many other countries. For instance, whole raw squids are available at the British grocery store chain Morrison's for just £4.25, roughly the same price as salmon fillets or pork shoulder steaks.  

Squids are members of the Cephalopoda class, where they share company with octopi and cuttlefish. This class is known for their intelligence, which has caused many to ask if it's okay to eat these clever creatures, as seen in Silvia Killingsworth's New Yorker piece "Why Not Eat Octopus?" Of course, you may have objections to cooking with squid that is less about ethics and more about "icks." Squids aren't the cutest to work with and often are associated with sea monsters thanks to their conical heads and inky black eyes. There are plenty of reasons to look for squid substitutes to use in classic calamari dishes. Luckily, there are a few easy alternatives. 

Shellfish substitutions for squid

Squids are still considered part of the culinary shellfish category even though they have no shells. That's because culinary shellfish is split up into two major groups — mollusks or bivalves and crustaceans. Cephalopods belong to the larger class of mollusks, which is also home to snails, oysters, and mussels. Whereas lobster, shrimp, and crab are classed as crustaceans. To find a similar taste to squid, look to other members of the mollusk family. 

Conch (pronounced conk) are sea snails that have very a similar texture and taste to squid. The semi-firm, mild-flavored conch is beloved in Caribbean cuisines, and is often served battered and fried (similar to calamari), turned into fritters, chopped up raw, and tossed into salads like Caribbean ceviche. Abalone is another type of sea snail that works well in recipes that call for squid. They are sold as "steaks" and can be fried, grilled, or braised. 

Vegetarian and vegan squid alternatives

Whether you're incorporating more plant-based recipes into your diet, honing a cruelty-free lifestyle, or just don't have affordable, fresh shellfish near you, you can still achieve similar textures and tastes with nature's most versatile culinary fungi — the mushroom. Specifically, The Mushroom Den recommends turning to oyster or king trumpet mushrooms. 

Mushrooms are much-loved in vegan and vegetarian circles because their texture is very similar to meat, they carry unique umami tastes, and they absorb seasoning and marinades just as well as a steak. Oyster mushrooms and king trumpet mushrooms are very firm and meaty, so they are a great squid alternative. To use them as a shellfish substitute, slice them to look like filleted steaks, or core them to make them look more like calamari hoops. If you aren't fully vegan, a splash of fish or oyster sauce to the marinade can really sell these groovy mushrooms as shellfish. Of course, there are vegan fish stocks and sauces that are also made from mushrooms or even algae. You can use mushrooms as you would squid in many recipes, but note that it will need to cook only for short periods, or the plant will become rubbery at best — and disintegrated at worst.