You may not think of seafood as having a season, but it certainly does. With some fish, it’s better to buy when they are quite high in fat, since it improves their flavor. Some fish are also considered to be in peak season when they are carrying eggs, which are a delicacy. With seafood like squid, whose fat content is not so important, a great advantage to buying in season (besides the flavor) is that it’s usually more affordable. Right now, varieties like the ever-popular aori-ika (bigfin reef squid), as well as the lesser-known kaminari-ika (“lightning squid”), jindō-ika (Japanese dwarf squid) and tiny, delicate hotaru-ika (“firefly squid”) are in season.
This dish stars a whole aori-ika, which is the most familiar type and size of squid used in Japanese cooking. Breaking down a whole squid may seem intimidating, but it’s actually a lot easier to do than breaking down a fish, since you don’t need a knife. The only thing you need to be careful of is to not break the ink sac or the kimo (sac that holds the innards). It’s not a disaster if they do break, but it can be messy.
Both can be used for some delicious dishes — the kimo is an essential part of ika no shiokara, (salt-preserved squid and intestines), which is a rather addictive chinmi (delicacy). And the ink is used as a dramatically dark, briny sauce for dishes like pasta al nero di seppie, a speciality of Venice.
The round tube-shaped squid body is the easiest part to work with. The key is to not overcook it, or it will become hard and rubbery. In this classic simmered dish, the squid is added in the first stage of cooking just to transfer some of its flavor to the liquid, then taken out and added again just at the end, to ensure it remains tender and delicious. It also uses new potatoes, which are in season, instead of the usual taro root or yamaimo.
Serves 4 to 5
Prep: 15 mins.; cook: 30 mins., plus resting time
• 700 grams small new potatoes
• 2 fresh squid, about 300 grams each
For the dashi stock:
• 500 milliliters water
• 5-centimeter square piece konbu seaweed
• 1 large handful (about 5 grams) katsuobushi (skipjack tuna flakes)
For the seasoning:
• 4 tablespoons sake
• 4 tablespoons mirin (sweet, fermented cooking alcohol)
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
• The white part of a small leek
1. Make the dashi. Soak the konbu seaweed in the water for at least an hour. Heat it up in a pot until just before it comes to a full boil, and take out the konbu. Add the katsuobushi and turn off the heat. When the katsuobushi has sunk to the bottom of the pot, strain the liquid through a colander.
2. Peel the potatoes, and cut them up into easy-to-eat pieces if necessary. Put the potatoes in a bowl of cold water.
3. Place the squid on your cutting board and gently pull out the tentacles, so that all the innards come out. Be careful not to break the kimo (inner organ sac) or the ink sac. Remove the plastic-like skeleton. Rinse out the body of the squid. You don’t need to peel it for this dish, but if you would like to you can peel it off just as you’d take the skin off a sausage. Rinse the squid again, and clean off your cutting board.
4. Cut the body of the squid into 1-centimeter wide rings. Cut up the fins into the same width. Set aside the tentacles and kimo for the bonus recipe below.
5. Cut the white part off a leek into 5-centimeter long pieces. Cut in half lengthwise, and remove the core. Finely shred the rest into thin strips. (This cutting method is called “white beard negi.”) Put into a bowl of cold water to crispen.
6. Put the potatoes in a pan and add the dashi stock and seasoning ingredients. If the liquid doesn’t cover them, add enough water to do so. Add the squid, and bring to a boil. When it comes to a boil, simmer for two minutes, then remove the squid. Skim off any scum, and keep on cooking the potatoes until they are halfway done, another five minutes or so.
7. Keep on simmering, turning the potatoes occasionally until half the liquid is gone. When the potatoes can be pierced through easily with a skewer, add the squid again and stir to heat through. Turn off the heat. Serve topped with the shredded leek.
This will keep well covered in the refrigerator for three to four days. Heat through gently before serving, although it’s great cold too.
Bonus recipe: Stir-fried tentacles and kimo
1. Cut the tentacles into easy to eat pieces, discarding the hard beak and eyeballs. Chop up the green part of the leek used in the recipe above. Reserve the kimo.
2. Heat up ½ tablespoon of butter in a frying pan and add the tentacles and leek. Add the kimo sac and crush it, distributing it in the pan. Season with 1 tablespoon each of sake, soy sauce and mirin and salt, if needed. Finish off with a sprinkle of shichimi tōgarashi (seven-spice chili powder).
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