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by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fish and Seafood

Spring Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(1) page(s): 5, 8, and 10

Simply called you yu by the Chinese, there are hundreds of different kinds of squid, some but not all looking somewhat similar to others. They are related to, but are not the same as cuttlefish or octopus. They are an ancient animal classified as a mollusk, more specifically called a cephalopod mollusk. Squid have a head distinctly separated from their body. They have large eyes, a mouth with a tongue, two jaws, teeth, and lots of very mobile arms with many suckers on each of them. Some say they have ten of these arms; but more to the point, there are really two tentacles and eight arms. Squid move about by a form of propulsion. They take in water through funnels and forcefully eject it out the back, steering with their fins. Most have an ink gland that when attacked, they use it to squirt out a brownish-black liquid to muddy the waters.

Probably all Chinese eat squid, one way or another. They eat them fresh, frozen, or dried. Arguments persist as to whether the people of Zhejiang or those from Fujian consume more than do other Chinese people from any other province. Both of these provinces make and enjoy a soup made with squid. Often it is Hot Squid Soup. People from both provinces are also known for their fried squid dishes. We certainly are not sure which province eats more, nor can we guarantee when any Chinese person first began eating these fast-swimming creatures of the sea. What we are sure of, is that some squid live near the water’s surface and near shore, while others are no where near, but rather can be found in the deepest part of almost every ocean.

Researchers advise that all squid lack red blood, that they can not make tears, and that they have no emotions. They were thought to be lacking in food value as well, but modern nutrient analysis shows that about a three and a half ounces cooked or fried have in the neighborhood of one hundred seventy-five calories, eighteen grams of protein, eight of carbohydrate, and almost the same amount of fat. Clearly they should be a dieters delight. Mineral content is minimal, but more than their vitamin content. Sodium, potassium, and phosphorus amounts run from two hundred fifty to three hundred milligrams each.

Lologu vilgaris or squid, zoologically speaking, are very ancient animals known to have the largest brain of any invertebrate or animal without a backbone. There is something firm within them, but this is just cartilage. National Geographic had some gorgeous pictures of them in their August 2004 issue. But like many articles about edible creatures, it did not discuss their food value nor their use in the Chinese or any other cuisine.

Squid were probably consumed very early on, but they were not written about extensively until they were a very important food. That was during the Tang dynasty. What was written then and before 618 CE was that they were often preserved by salting and/or drying. In those times, they were loved when fried with ginger and vinegar and eaten as a staple food item as were dried shrimp. Nowadays, they are sold not only fresh or dried, but also canned and frozen.

Squid can grow to six or more feet in length, and they can weigh up to one hundred and fifty pounds each. However, the ones most consumed are much smaller than that. Squid fanciers tell us that six to sixty per pound are best for cooking. Real afficionados say they prefer theirs at eight or ten to the pound. Both the female and the male squid die after they lay and fertilize their eggs. The number they lay can be from three to fifty thousand, depending upon the species. Never have we read anything about eating their eggs.

Squid meat is white to ivory, the fins and tentacles are edible. The head with its very large eyes and the mouth with its teeth are rarely, if ever, consumed. Some people say that squid look like torpedoes, and some really do. But with three to four hundred different species, all do not look alike. What is similar, is that their tail or rear tentacle area has ten appendages, each with suckers on them. Those same afficionados advise that these tentacles are the best and most tasty part of any squid species.

While visual difference are not always easy to differentiate, how to cook them can be a snap. Unlike octopus and cuttlefish, squid are easy to cook. They require no pounding before cooking, and they cook quickly. Before doing so, remove the heads, just pull them away from the body. There is a membrane on the body, and use a fingernail to scrape it off. Do this in a bowl, and under water, as they are slippery. Should they have one, and some do, remove the sack carefully pulling it off. Try not to hold the sack firmly because it can squirt its ink all over everything. Pull out the cartilage, too, which some call the pen of the squid.

Keeping and cooking squid come with specific rules. For those who fish for them, it is recommended that they not be cooked the day they are hauled in. They are best between one and two days after that. The same is true when using those just defrosted. Why folks say and write that, we have no idea.

When ready, cook them quickly, half to one minute if frying, five to ten minutes when poaching or sauteing, and five to seven minutes when steaming them. Should they be grilled, one minute per side is all the time needed. The Chinese eat their squid hot or cold, stuffed or not, and some even eat them raw, though we never have. Most like them in soups, stews, stir-fried, deep-fried, steamed, and even smoked.

Dried squid can acquire a strong flavor. Keep them tightly wrapped; several layers of plastic wrap works well. Their shelf-life is many years, some say forever. Prepare the dry ones by soaking them in cool water for twenty-four hours. Change the water four to six times during this period. Be sure to remove any internal organs and the outer skin or membrane. Then score the inside of the body. Do so in a grid or cross-hatch pattern, each cut or mark should be as close to the previous one as possible. Next cut the body into one or two inch pieces before cooking. This scoring allows the flesh to roll or curl. After this preparation, they can be cooked in any of the manners already discussed.

Our Chinese staff and friends advise they like theirs in soups, mixed with vegetables, prepared with a sweet and sour or a hot and sour sauce, and of course, they love fresh ones deep fried. Here are some recipes of squid in various forms so that you can try making all different kinds of squid dishes. Enjoy!
Dry Squid and Vegetable Soup
1 dried squid, soaked overnight covered and in the refrigerator, changing the water two or three times
8 medium-size Chinese black mushrooms, soaked for half an hour in 1 cup water, stems discarded
2 ounces roast pork
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks Chinese celery, cut into one-inch pieces
3 water chestnuts, sliced
1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon chili oil
8 cups chicken stock
8 fresh shrimp, peeled with veins removed, cut into four pieces each
1. Cut squid into one-inch pieces and score their undersides. Discard head, and cut tail section into four pieces; score that as well. Blanch for two minutes in boiling water, then drain well.
2. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the water, and cut each one into quarters, 3.Cut roast pork into half-inch pieces.
4. Heat sesame oil and fry mushrooms and pork for one minute, then add squid pieces and fry for one minute more.
5. Add garlic, celery, and water chestnuts and stir-fry another minute before adding soy sauce, rice wine, and chili. Stir well, then add the chicken stock. Simmer for half an hour, add the shrimp and simmer another three minutes, then serve.
Approximate nutrient analysis when serving ten people. Each serving has 103 calories, 5 g carbohydrate, 9 g protein, 712 mg sodium, 6 total fat, 1 g saturated fat, and 60 mg cholesterol.
Stuffed Fresh Squid
2 fresh squid, cleaned as indicated above, then blanched in boiling water for half minute
1 fresh chili pepper, seeds discarded, and minced
1/4 cup minced peeled large white radish
2 small Kirby-like cucumbers, minced
1/4 cup minced peeled fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons Chinese white vinegar
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 small carrot, peeled and minced
1 or 2 leaves lettuce
1. Remove tentacles, and mince them, then mix them with the minced chili pepper, white radish, cucumbers, and ginger, and stir in the vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, minced carrot. Let rest covered in the refrigerator for one hour.
2. Remove from the refrigerator and ring out any liquid, then stuff the ingredients tightly into the squid, and refrigerate covered for another hour.
3. Put lettuce on a plate, then using an exceptionally sharp knife, cut the squid into one-inch rings and put them cut side up on a plate. Then serve.
Deep-fried Fresh Squid
2 pounds fresh squid
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon chili paste with garlic
4 Tablespoons each of four different flours (i.e.: cornstarch, arrowroot, lotus root, and water chestnut)
1/2 cup corn oil
3 to 5 slices fresh ginger, cut into slivers or finely diced
1. Prepare the squid by washing and drying them then cutting away wings and tail sections of each squid, and save for another use. Cut off their heads and discard them. Cut bodies of the squid across into rings.
2. Mix cornstarch and rice wine and marinate the squid for half to three-quarters of an hour with the chili paste, then drain well and discard only the liquid.
3. Mix the four flours and put the squid rings in this mixture, mix by hand, then put in a strainer and shake away all excess flour.
4. Heat oil and add squid rings and stir about two minutes, no longer, until they are lightly browned, then drain on paper towels and serve.
Stir-fried Frozen Squid II
1 pound frozen squid, defrosted for an hour in tepid water
1 cup oil
3 Tablespoons fresh ginger, each slice cut in four
2 scallions, cut in half-inch lengths
1 chili pepper, seeded and cut in six pieces
2 Tablespoons mushroom soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
1. Remove head and internal organs from each squid, then cut off wings and tail section and cut each squid into two-inch pieces and score each one in a cross-hatched manner on the under side.
2. Heat oil and deep fry all pieces for one minute, drain on paper towels, and remove all but one tablespoon of the oil.
3. Reheat the leftover oil and stir-fry ginger, scallion, and chili pepper pieces for half a minute, then add squid, soy sauce and wine, and stir one minute, then serve over rice or noodles, if desired.
Squid with Kidneys
1 large fresh or frozen squid, innards and head removed and discarded
1 pork kidney, cut in half and the veins removed
1/2 green pepper
1/2 carrot
2 Tablespoons corn oil
4 slices fresh garlic
1 scallion, white minced, green part cut in half-inch pieces
1 dried chili pepper, seeds and veins removed (use gloves to do this)
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons cold water
1. Cut squid into two inch pieces and score in cross-hatched pattern on the inner surface. Blanch in boiling water for one minute, then drain.
2. Cut each kidney half into four pieces and score in crosshatch manner on outer surface. Blanch in boiling water for half a minute, then drain.
3. Cut carrot and green pepper into thick slices, and crosshatch each or cut them into some type of design.
4. Heat oil, and fry garlic, white part of the scallion, and chili pepper for half a minute., then add carrot and pepper and stir-fry for one minute, then add both soy sauces and the rice wine and mix before adding the squid and kidney pieces. Stir-fry for one minute.
5. Stir in cornstarch water and green part of the scallion and stir until sauce thickens, about one minute, then serve.
Approximate nutrient analysis when serving four people. Each serving has 147 calories, 7 g carbohydrate, 10 g protein, 227 mg sodium, 3 total fat, 1 g saturated fat, and 63 mg cholesterol.

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