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Squid, Snails, and Salamanders; Sea Vegetables, too

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fish and Seafood

Fall Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(3)

Several previous issues discussed creatures of the sea; the first in this series was in Volume 22(1) simply looking at nine of them and with a single recipe for each. Since that issue, more recent copy detailed some of them and others; to see which ones, check this magazine’s Index under Fish and Seafood for their individual titles and the sea creatures discussed.

SQUID are Cephalopods in the Teuthida order. There are more than three hundred of them, each with four pairs of arms and a longer pair more commonly called their tentacles. The arms, no matter what you call them, include one pair used for reproductive purposes, and all have suckers to hold their prey and to hang on to things they climb on or over.

Their eyes are the largest in the animal kingdom, those known as Ommastrephidae are usually ocean swimmers while theLonginidae more often are found near the shore and/or in less salty water. These two large families have wide triangular tail sections that look like fins, all are strong swimmers, and some ‘fly’ above the water for short distances. There are those who call them ‘flying fish’ but that they are not.

Many squid do not look alike, most quite different from their ancestral relatives. These days, most change colors, their undersides are usually lighter than their tops, and all are highly intelligent, hunt cooperatively, and communicate with each other.

All squid have complex digestive systems, three hearts with two pumping into their gills, the systemic heart has three chambers. Almost all have a mouth with a sharp horny beak used to tear their prey into pieces, and most have limited hearing so do not always hear when an enemy sneaks up on them. The Chinese call squid you yu, and while some say they lack food value, that is not true. What is true is that they have no red blood, no tears, and no emotions.

Many Chinese women will not eat squid when pregnant. Why not, because they believe their babies might be born with extra appendages. They feel the same about ingesting creatures in the octopus family. My grandmother had six toes on each foot and five fingers on each hand, and for religious reasons neither she nor her forbears ate a single squid nor an octopus. She did not understand this thinking and called it 'bunk.'

World-wide, the catch of squid is huge, guestimating the Japanese eat half of them and the Chinese the next larger amount. The amount consumed by the Japanese more than Americans, Basque, Canadians, English, Greeks, Turks, Portuguese, Italians, Spanish, and Vietnamese combined.

All squid squirt a brownish-black liquid when frightened and many Asians try to capture it; most are unsuccessful. While not everyone agrees, experts call all squid members of the Decapodiformes teuthida family. We assume all will soon follow suit using this new name.

People in several countries refer to squid as calamari, and many of them stuff their bodies, also cut their arms to make rings of their flesh. They and others often cut the bodies into flat pieces scoring them on one side which does tenderize them. Then, they cook them for a very short time, and know that except for the beaks, every part is edible.

Nutrition professionals say squid have lots of zinc, manganese, copper, selenium, Vitamin B12, and riboflavin, and that they are a very healthy food. Aside from humans, the main consumers are salmon, whales and other swimmers. Most squid are clever enough to get away when they see a predator, and when they do so, they disperse their ink or swim close to the surface so many do not follow them.

Big or small, squid take little time to cook, often a minute or two, though there are chefs who tell us that very large ones can be simmered for up to half an hour. We recommend testing their texture frequently, even as often as every few minutes, and when tender, remove them promptly. Do not trust a clock, trust this testing instead. Keep in mind they still cook when hot for some minutes after being removed from their heat source.

Squid can be purchased fresh, dried, or frozen, and each needs different handling. Dried ones are best soaked overnight. In the morning change their the water every hour or so until cooking them, then discard that water when they feel soft and pliable. Discard their beaks, too, also any soft bones and any membranes before cutting them apart. Make cross cuts though their flesh but not all the way through, and do so at angles close to each other and only on one side. Fresh squid cut this way will curl up when cooked.

In an article about squid in Volume 12(1), there were a few recipes; they were well received. Add the ones below to your culinary repertoire and serve them often. Keeping in mind they are very healthy and low in calories.

SNAILS are in the Mollusc family and are a delicacy in China as they are in France. Called won lu, wo ni niu, or si in Chinese, most but not all are in the Genus Helix. The more than forty thousand species are herbivores, not all are edible, though a bit more than half are. The Chinese consider many delicious, but not those without a shell which are called slugs. They are neither related nor relished.

Like the Romans, the Chinese do cultivate them for food and they fatten them on wine and/or grains. When ready for the pot, they rinse them in salt and/or vinegar water, remove them from their shells, and sand the pointed end off as do professional chefs. Only then do they cook them. When ready to eat snails, they insert a toothpick, pin, or pointed chopstick and discard the flat bony edge, then they use that toothpick or whatever to get them out of their shells. Thy come out quite easily after they sand that pointed end. The Chinese like to dip them in chicken fat or another dipping sauce then they consume them.

Ni Zan (1301 - 1374),a famous Chinese landscape painter did write a book called The Food System. He touted them as the ‘Food of the Yulin House,’ and he lived in Wu Xi near Suzhou. He thought snail juice a prized liquid and often drank some direct from their cooking pot.

The largest of snails is the conch, pronounced 'konk," and he suggests breaking their shell first, discarding any liquid, and using a small knife to peel their flesh into rounds or into very thin slices. He liked to marinate his, large or small, in lots of sugar for an hour or more, then rinse them or marinate them in salt, wine, scallions, and ground peppercorns then rinse again before cooking them. He suggests poaching them in chicken stock; and while he does say they can be eaten raw, he also says not to do so in summer.

Aquatic snails are called limpets, and they can be round or conical with shells that do not coil. He recommends cooking them like their land-loving larger or small relatives. The recipes below work for all kinds of snails.

SALAMANDERS, giant or otherwise, are amphibians, some in the order Caudata. They are lizard-like in appearance and most have four toes on their front legs, five on those in the rear. Not related to any sea creatures, they breathe differently, and some do have gills, others lungs, and still others breathe through their skin or through membranes in their mouths.

Anatomically, most salamanders have no rear legs, a few do not even have front ones. They are in the orderUrodela, and sometimes their legs get lost in fights or get stuck in crevices and lost when they try to pull them out. Some can and do regrow them; and if they have them, they are very short and most are in the rear. Often, they have one more toe on their front leg than on any rear ones.

Chefs tell us that with or without legs, they all taste the same, and are considered yummy. About one-third do lay their eggs in the water, others do so on land. If eaten, these roe are appreciated; and people who raise them are called heliculturalists.

All salamanders have variations in their life cycle, most look like small lizards, young folk often confuse them with eels, particularly those without or with very tiny legs. Males and females look alike when grown, but when young most males can have external gills. Almost all fertilize their eggs internally and in unusual ways. Females are known to pick up male sperm with their vents and store them there until they lay their own eggs; only then do they fertilize them.

The Giant Salamander, called the Hellbender or Crytobranchus alleganiensis, is the largest amphibian in the world, and most Chinese love to eat them and smaller ones, too. However, some they no longer can because the large ones are considered endangered species. They have been over-gathered and over-used, particularly in Chinese medicine as they are thought to be aphrodisiacs. They do have other medicinal uses including as a cure for rheumatism.

Some people believe salamanders are snakes and they cook them as such. One chef told us he does just that and we should, too. He says they have a strong aroma, so he cooks his in a stock made with chicken, ham, sugarcane, ginger, and tangerine peel. He suggest doing the same if we find their aroma overpowering. He said to “sliver them and add them with half dozen dried longan, twice that many Chinese dates, a few Chinese black mushrooms, a handful of soaked wood-ear fungi, and some winter bamboo shoots." He went on to say that we should "cut all of them into thin strips and start them cooking in cold water, bring the water and all ingredients to a simmer, remove any scum, and cook them only for a few minutes." Another chef advises that we should "add a lot of fresh ginger and serve them with fish maw, slivers of lemon leaf, chrysanthemum petals, and some fried flour and egg dough." We have yet to do so as we have not located any salamander small or large. The seafood recipes that follow are from a Chinese friend who says she has; the sea vegetables from our kitchen.
Squid in Curry Sauce
2 fresh squid, heads remove and discard, beak, bones, and cartilage
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1 onion, peeled and minced
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeds discarded, and diced
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons curry powder
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 dragon fruit, peeled and diced into one-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with a like amount of cold water
1. Prepare the squid removing and discarding beak, bone, and cartilage.
2. Toss the carrot, onion, garlic, and cucumber pieces.
3. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, then the vegetables, and stir-fry for one minute, then add the squid, curry powder, rice wine, salt, and the sugar. Stir two or three times before adding the dragon fruit pieces, and the cornstarch water. Stir for one minute until thickened, then serve in a pre-heated serving bowl.
Squid, Fresh and Stir-fried
2 pounds fresh squid, heads and cartilage removed and discarded, cut open and cleaned, their main body scored
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
4 Chinese black mushrooms, soaked, stems removed and discarded, caps sliced
½ cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 shallots, peeled and minced
1 boneless pork chop, chopped finely or ground
3 scallions, sliced on an angle
½ cup bamboo shoots, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 Tablespoon Chinese white vinegar
1. Cut the squid tentacles into rings ot chop them, cross-hatch the outer side of the squid body.
2. Immerse the squid pieces in boiling water for up to one minute, then drain quickly.
3. Mix rice wine, soy sauce, mushrooms, and the cornstarch, then add the squid.
4. Now heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and stir-fry the garlic and the ginger for one minute, then add the shallots and the pork, and stir-fry until the pork is no longer pink, then add the scallions and bamboo shoots, and the salt and pepper, and the chicken broth mixture. Stir for one minute until this thickens; then add the vinegar and the squid, stir, and serve.
Squid in Oyster Sauce
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
4 dried squid, soaked overnight, then their head and cartilage discarded
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
½ cup chicken stock
1 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 slices fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 scallion, cut on an angle
1 teaspoon baking soda
1. Cut squid tentacles into thin rings, their body into one-inch squares. Discard the beaks and any cartilage.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the vegetable oil, then the dried squid, the chicken soup, oyster sauce, rice wine, and the ginger, and stir-fry for one minute or longer or until the squid is tender. Then add the scallion pieces and the baking soda and stir-fry another minute, then serve.
Braised Squid with Chicken
3 dried squid, soaked overnight, beak and cartilage discarded, the soaking water, as well
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 chicken legs, bones removed and discarded, meat cut into one-inch squares, then simmered for fifteen minutes
3 scallions, knotted
6 slices fresh ginger, peeled
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
6 Chinese mushrooms, soaked, stems discarded, caps into quarters
½ cup bamboo shoots, diced
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with a dash of salt, and one tablespoon cold water
½ teaspoon baking soda
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, then stir-fry the chicken, scallions, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, and the rice wine for five minutes, boil it for one minute more.
2. Next add the squid and boil for one more minute before adding the rest of the ingredients, stirring all the time, until thickened, but no more than another minute. Serve in a pre-heated serving bowl.
Squid with Red Bead Squares
½ pound fresh squid, beak, head and cartilage removed, then mixed with two tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ pound ground pork
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
6 slices fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1 square or one Tablespoons fermented red bean paste, mashed with one Tablespoon cold water
½ cup chicken stock
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of cold water
1 egg white
1. Mix squid and soy sauce and set aside for twenty minutes. Then cut th tentacles into rings, cut open and cross-cut the body, then cut it into one-inch squares.
2. Heat wok or fry pan and add the oil and stir-fry the pork until no longer pink, then add the rice wine, ginger, fermented red bean paste, and the water, also the stock, and stir-fry for two more minutes.
3. Now add the squid and the stock and the cornstarch mixture and stir-fry for another minute or until thick; then serve.
Snail Pancakes
½ pound snail meat, sliced then pounded
2 stalks celery, slice thinly on an angle
1 onion, minced
1 hot red pepper, seeded and minced
1 egg, beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
hot sauce or oyster sauce for dipping
1. Finely mince the pounded snail meat, or grind it in a meat grinder using the medium setting. Then mix it with the celery, onion, and red pepper.
2. Add the beaten egg, flour, and salt as a medium-thick batter.
3. Heat oil in a wok or fry pan and using a small ladle, make a small pancake and allow it to set before turning it over and cooking the second side until almost done. Next, make a second pancake, and turn it over when tan on the first side. When both sides are equally tan, remove both to paper towels. Continue until all batter is used. Keep the pancakes in a warm oven until all are finished, then serve them.
Mixed Seafood Cakes with Snails and Other Seafood
½ cup snail meat removed from the shells, dried with paper towels, then chopped
1/4 cup white boneless and skinless fish filet, dried with paper towels, then chopped
1/4 cup fresh squid, dried with paper towels, then chopped
1/4 cup peeled shrimp, their vens removed then chop them
1 egg, beaten
1 salted duck egg, steamed for ten minutes, cooled, peeled, and the white chopped, the yolk saved for another purpose
1/4 cup cornstarch, divided in half
1 cup panko breadcrumbs, divided in half
1/4 cup green beans, ends removed, then chopped
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh coriander, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup vegetable oil, for frying
1. Mix chopped snail, fish, squid, and shrimp, add the egg and the chopped duck egg white.
2. Next add half the cornstarch and half the panko, the chopped green beans, and the chopped coriander and the sesame oil.
3. Add salt and pepper, as needed, then heat the vegetable oil and fry one teaspoon of this mixture and adding the salt and pepper (as to the salt and pepper, add about half teaspoon of salt and one quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper), then fry one teaspoon of this mixture and check the seasoning, adjust as needed.
4. Make two-inch pancakes about half-inch thick.
5. Next, mix the remaining cornstarch and panko and dust the seafood cakes on both sides and set them aside for ten minutes.
6. Heat the oil and fry these mixed cakes for four or five minutes per side, drain on paper towels, and serve.
Snails with Vegetables
1 pound snail meat, sliced and minced
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 cup finely minced dark green vegetables
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, well-beaten
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1. Mix snail meat and the lemon juice and set aside for twenty minutes, then drain and discard any liquid.
2. Add the wine, hot sauce, and the minced vegetables and let this rest for ten minutes.
3. Mix the eggs, stir this into the snail mixture.
4. Heat the wok or fry pan, add the oil, and then put the snail mixture into the wok or fry pan and allow to it to set and brown on one side then turn it over and allowing the other side to brown and set. As this is a thick egg mixture, do check with a toothpick in the center that it is cooked through. Then turn it out onto a paper towel, put it on a pre-heated platter, and cut it into pie-shaped wedges before serving.
Snails, Cantonese Style
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
1/4 pound ground pork
1 cup ground snail meat
3 Tablespoons chicken stock
5 slices fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with one Tablespoon cold water
1 egg, beaten
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, garlic, and the fermented beans, and stir for on minute or until pork is no longer pink.
2. Now add the snail meat and stir once or twice before adding the chicken stock, ginger, and the soy sauce. Bring this to the boil; add the cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened.
4. Put this mixture into a pre-heated bowl, put the egg on top, and stir, then cover for one minute before removing cover and serving.
Salamander, Cantonese Style
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon fermented black beans, coarsely chopped
1/4 pound ground pork
1 cup ground salamander or conch meat
3 Tablespoons chicken stock
5 slices fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with one Tablespoon cold water
1 egg, beaten
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, garlic, and the fermented beans, and stir for on minute or until pork is no longer pink.
2. Now dd the conch or salamander, and stir once or twice before adding the chicken stock, ginger, and the soy sauce, and bring to the boil; then add the cornstarch mixture and stir until this thickens.
4. Put in a pre-heated bowl, put the egg on top, and stir, then cover for one minute before uncovering and serving.
Salamander Omelet
1 small salamander, diced coarsely, and soaked in cold water. Then drained and dried with paper towels
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
6 eggs, beaten until light lemon yellow
2 scallions, angle-sliced
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, then the eggs, and stir them until the start to set.
2. Add the salamander pieces and the scallion pieces and when this starts to set, gently turn it over and let it set on the other side, then slide it on to a pre-heated platter, cut it in eight wedges, and serve while the eggs are still setting.
Salamander with Root Vegetables
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium salamander or two large conch, diced
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons water chestnut flour
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 cup mixed root vegetables, peeled and diced, and boiled for four minutes, then drained
3 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, and then the salamander or conch and stir-fry for two minutes before adding the cornstarch and the water chestnut flour, they stir-fry for another minute.
2. Add one cup cold water and the root vegetables, and stir-fry for three minutes or until they are soft, then add the spinach and stir for two minutes, then serve.
Salamander with Chili Peppers
1 pound salamander, cleaned and cut into one-quarter-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped
3 cloves fresh peeled garlic, chopped
5 slices fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon coarse salt
3 scallions cut into half-inch pieces
1 red onion, cut into half-inch pieces
2 fresh green chilies, seeds removed, then cut into half-inch pieces
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons Shao Xing rice wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1. Cook salamander pieces in boiling water for half an hour, then rinse in cold water for two minutes.
2. Mix and mash the black beans, garlic, and the ginger, then add the salt and set aside.
3. Heat vegetable oil, then stir-fry the onion cubes for one minute, then add the green chili pieces and the salamander pieces and the black bean mixture and stir-fry for one minute, the add the scallions.
4. Mix the soy sauce, oyster sauce, the wine, sesame oil, and the sugar and pour this over the salamander mixture, stir for half a minute, then serve.
Hot and Sour Soup with Sea Vegetables
4 cups chicken broth or stock
3 large Shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, tops soaked and sliced
1/4 cup Chinese rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons cold water
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 Tablespoons fresh minced peeled ginger
1/2 pound firm doufu, diced
1 ounce bean thread noodles, soaked and broken into two-inch pieces, then drained
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon dried crushed sea vegetables
1. Heat broth or stock, mushrooms, vinegar, cornstarch mixture, sesame oil, ginger, dooufu, and the drained bean thread noodes, and simmer for five minutes.
2. Add soy sauce, sugar, and the ground sea vegetables, mix well, and simmer three minutes more. Then pour into a pre-heated large soup bowl, and serve.
Grass Carp and Sea Vegetables
1/2 pound grass carp fillet
1/4 cup dried sea vegetables, soaked for ten minutes, then chopped
6 slices fresh ginger, shredded
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce

1. Place grass carp on a heat-proof plate and put the sea vegetables and shredded ginger on top.
2. Mix the heated oil and the soy sauce, and sprinkle on top of the fish filet. Cover with plastic wrap and steam for five to six minutes, then uncover and serve.
Crabs, Sea Vegetables, and Yellow Bean Paste
3 crabs, scrubbed, their tops removed, the bodies chopped into four pieces; the claws separated and smashed
6 shallots, peeled and sliced
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
1 red chili pepper, seeded and chopped
5 slices fresh ginger slivered
3 Tablespoon vegetable oil, divided in half
3 Tablespoons spicy yellow bean paste
1 Tablespon granulated sgar
1 Tablespoon Chinese vinegar
1 Tablespoon dried ground sea vegetables
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
2 scallions, cut into half-inch pieces
1. Put shallots, garlic, chili pepper pieces, and ginger in a blender, add half the oi, and blend well. Then transfer this into a small pot. and add the bean paste, sugar, vinegar, sea vegetables, and the soy sauce and simmer for three minutes, then set this aside.
2. Heat the wok add the rest of the oil and the crab pieces and claws and stir-fry for two minutes, then the top shell of each crab, half a cup of water and cover and simmer for ten minutes until the crabs are cooked through, then stir in the rest of the seasoning ingredients and stir-fry for three minutes before transferring to a pre-heated bowl, sprinkle the scallions on top, stir once, and serve.

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