IN EUROPE, Japan and most of the Far East, squid is a favored delicacy. The flavor is similar to shell fish; the texture is not unlike abalone. In fact, the texture and flavor are so similar to abalone that on the West Coast it is sometimes called abalonetti. While the taste difference is minimal, the price difference is not. Squid costs as little as 25 cents per pound on the West Coast, $1 per pound down on the dock here in D.C. and up to $1.69 a pound in some seafood markets. With the price of shrimp, lobster and fish reaching unaffordable heights, you may wish to learn more about this bargain-priced delicacy from the sea.

Nearly all of the squid available here is frozen or thawed. It does spoil as quickly as other seafoods so it must be cooked or refrozen soon after thawing. I like to buy the five-pound box and thaw it under running water. I process it into steaks, rings, tentacles and minced squid and refreeze it in meal size batches. From that five-pound box I get four meals and enough minced tentacles for two batches of squid chowder. I cook for two adults and two teenage boys.

Squid is composed of four important parts: the sheath, the rudders, the tentacles and the skin. There is a clear plastic-like bone hidden inside the sheath and a beak in the mouth. Squid will vary in size from two inches to two feet. The ones available here are generally about one foot long. These make the best steaks and rings. Although many people throw away the tentacles because of the appearance, they are the most tender and flavorful part. Because the skin cooks to a bright purple/pink color it is usually removed before cooking.

To clean your squid, pull out the tentacles and set them aside. Grasp the two rudders (or tails) between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze. This will break a hole in the skin and release the rudders from the sheath. Pull the pointed end of the sheath through the hole in the skin. Pull downward. This is done as if pulling off a sock. You will be left with a smooth white sheath. If you want rings for calamari fritos use a spoon to clean out the sheath and cut it into rings. If you want steaks, use a knife or scissors to cut open the sheath and scrape out the internal parts. Remove the clear bone. There will be a groove in the flesh where the bone was. There is an ink sac that will break and color your squid, knife and board. It washes away with water, but will stain clothing if allowed to dry. If you are going to use those wonderful tentacles, you need to cut them off just below the eyes. Pop out the beak that is hidden in the center of the tentacles. When I clean large tentacles, I try to strip off the skin; with small ones I don't bother. The tentacles may be used whole or coarsely chopped. They may also be ground or minced in the food processor to use like minced clams.

The squid steaks will need to be tenderized. Place the inside (the groove from the bone will identify it) next to the board. Use a tenderizing hammer to pound the outside. It is not necessary to pound the inside. The tentacles do not need to be tenderized.

The most important thing to remember about squid is that it must be cooked quickly. The longer you cook it the tougher it is. Squid may be blanced for 20 seconds in rapidly boiling water if you plan to use it in salads or dishes where you would use cooked crab or shrimp. When frying or sauteing, use hot oil and a short cooking time.

There are so many ways to use squid that I find it hard to stop giving you recipes. Try using squid instead of shrimp in your egg rolls. Use your favorite deviled crab recipe but substitute blanched, chopped squid steaks. Mix chopped blanched squid with green onion, sliced celery and green pepper and toss with garlicky vinaigrette dressing. CALAMARI FRITOS (6 servings) 1 (2 pound) whole squid or 1 pound squid sheaths 1 cup flour for dredging 1 egg yolk 1/2 cup cold water 1/2 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking powder Oil for frying

Cut the cleaned but uncut sheaths into 1/2-inch-wide rings. Turn the rings inside out (or turn the sheaths inside out before cutting).This makes them hold their shape during frying. Dredge the rings in flour. Mix the egg yolk with the water. Stir the flour, baking powder and salt together and them into the water. Dip each ring in this batter and into deep hot fat (375 degrees). Fry only three rings at a time so that the oil temperature does not drop. Remove from the fat just as soon as the batter is crisp and pale golden in color. Serve the calimari with cocktail or tartar sauce. The tentacles are delicious done this way. BREADED SQUID STEAKS (4 servings) 1 pound squid steaks, tenderized 1 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper 1 egg mixed with 1/4 cup milk 2 cups cracker crumbs (saltines are good) 1 stick butter 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Dredge the squid in flour. Dip each steak in the milk and egg mixture and then the cracker crumbs. Heat the butter and oil in a shallow sauteing pan. Saute the steaks until crisp and pale brown on each side. Some west coast chefs use canned milk instead of the egg and milk mixture. This gives a slightly sweet taste which is pleasant. SQUID AND EGGPLANT PARMESAN (4 large servings) 8 slices eggplant, 1/2 inch thick Salt Flour 1 egg mixed with 1/4 cup milk 1/2 cup parmesan mixed with 1 cup dry breadcrumbs 1 quart of good marinara sauce* 1 pound provolone cheese, sliced thin 8 squid steaks breaded and fried as above (16 if small)

Slice the eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Let rest one hour. Place the slices between paper towels and squeeze the moisture out. Dip in flour. Dip each slice in the milk and egg mixture and then coat with the cheese and breadcrumb mix. Fry the slices in the same oil used for the squid. Heat the marinara sauce. In a baking dish or four individual oven proof dishes, arrange the slices of eggplant. Top with a spoonful of sauce and a slice of cheese. Now place two squid steaks on each serving. Pour marinara sauce over and top with the remaining cheese. Bake 10 minutes at 350 degrees or until the cheese is melted.

*Use a bottled sauce or use the recipe from your favorite Italian cookbook.

TENTACLE STEW (6 servings) 1/2 pound ham cut in 1/2 inch cubes 1 medium onion, diced 1green pepper, diced 2 cloves garlic, mashed 2 cups canned tomato sauce 1 teaspoon Italian red pepper flakes (less if you don't like very hot food) 1/2 teaspoon oregano 1teaspoon curry powder 1 cup water 2 pounds squid, cleaned and tenderized (or 2 pounds tenacles)

Heat a small stock pot and add the ham. Fry until some of the fat fries out. Add the onion, green pepper and garlic. Cook until they are soft (I use a lid to help). Add the tomato sauce, seasonings and water and simmer for 15 minutes, covered. Cut each squid steak into bite size pieces. Cut the tentacles into several pieces, depending on size. Add the squid to the pot and simmer for no longer than 5 minutes. SQUID CIOPPINO (8 servings as a first course, 4 as a main course) 1/2 cup good olive oil 4 cloves garlic 1 small onion, minced 2 (28 ounce) cans Italian tomatoes with basil 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes Salt and pepper 2 pounds squid, cleaned and tenderized 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined 12 clams or mussels scrubbed well

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot. Add the onion and garlic. Cook until soft. Add the tomatoes and seasoning. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Cook over a medium heat until the tomatoes are reduced to a thick puree. Cut the squid into bite size pieces. I like to cut the sheaths into crosswise strips, so that they curl when cooked. This is also a good time to use any extra tentacles. When the tomatoes are reduced to a puree, add the clams, shrimp and squid. Place a tight lid on the pot and raise the heat. Cook for five minutes or until the clams open. The juices from the clams and squid will thin the tomatoes to a wonderful broth. Fill each soup plate with seafood and ladle a cup of broth over it. Serve with lots of crusty French bread. DEVILED SQUID (6 servings) Sheaths from 2-pound squid, tenderized and blanched 4 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 2 cups light cream or milk 6 tablespoons sherry 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce 1/4 teaspoon curry powder 1/4 teaspoon white pepper Pinch of cayenne (or to taste) 1/4 teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg Salt to taste 3 egg yolks

Cut the squid into bite-sized pieces. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and cook one minute. Add the cream and stir with a whisk until it is thickened and has boiled for three minutes. Remove from the heat. Mix together 3 tablespoons of sherry, worcestershire, mustard, curry, hot pepper sauce, and seasonings. Add this to the cream sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the squid (remember it is already blanched and needs no cooking in the sauce) and bring to a simmer. Mix the yolks with remaining 3 tablespoons of sherry and stir into the deviled squid just before serving. Serve over rice. GREEN PEPPER SQUID (4 servings) 1/2 stick butter 1 medium onion, diced in 1/2-inches 1 clove garlic, mashed 2 green peppers, diced in 1/2-inches 1 teaspoon basil Salt Pinch cayenne pepper 1 pound squid steaks, tenderized and cut in strips

Heat the butter in a sauteing pan until bubbling. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and green peppers. Cook the peppers about 3 minutes, until they turn a brighter green. Add the seasonings. Add the squid and cook until it turns white and curls, about 1 minute. serve with French bread as a first course or on rice as a main dish.