This is a truly spectacular dish and is one of my top 5 favorite Chinese dishes. Yes its preparation shares much with that of Salt and Pepper Shrimp. But there are a few differences and the flavor profile – at least in my humble opinion – is superior with the squid. I made this last weekend for my family and some close friends and there were no leftovers to be had. I will share a lot of minute details with you on making this dish to minimize errors and really get this restaurant quality. If you ever go into any remotely ethnic Chinese restaurant you will see this dish on the menu. And as I mentioned in the shrimp recipe, you will need very high heat (in excess of 600 degrees F) to properly cook it. I’ll go into more detail below.
The first thing we want is to start our rice.
I am cooking for 6 people here so I am steaming 4 cups (uncooked) of Japanese Koshihikari rice. I am using the umami setting which, with this particular model of rice cooker, will mean most of the cooking time will be under pressure. As you can see, I have 81 minutes before the rice is ready so we have plenty of time here.
Our dredge will be the first thing I make. Since I have two lbs of fresh squid here (you can use previously frozen squid and thaw it – it won’t affect the flavor profile) I want to be sure I make enough dredge. Above I have white, green and schichuan peppercorns. White are in the spice grinder I have at the top, the green in the lower right and Schichuan peppercorns in the lower left. Not seen are black peppercorns which I also include. The schichuan peppercorns in the lower left there are an interesting spice so I will go into some detail here.
Schichuan peppercorns or ash berries as they are sometimes called are the husk of a seed of a plant referred to as Chinese coriander. Oddly enough the seed is normally discarded and it is the husk that is desired for Schichuan cuisine. If you ever eat one of these husks raw (as I had my guests do) you will notice it tends to numb the taste buds and even make them tingle after a while. But mixed with other spices, this seasoning is amazing. I realize it can be hard to find but it is worth the effort. While it won’t ruin your dish if you don’t have it, you will notice a difference.
So here I have mixed my spices including salt, msg, rice flour, corn starch and the peppercorns well ground. You will want to mix these dry spices well. I only put a little dredge in my dredge bowl at a time as unlike egg wash based frying you will not use up lots of your spice dredge as you coat your meats with it. In fact you will have leftovers that you can save for use later if you want. So I’ll add about 2/3 cup of powder at a time to my bowl and mix with the meat. If you have not done so you will want to clean your squid. With that I bought, most of that work was done and all I had to do was cut the tubes into rings.
And here I have tossed in a bunch of paper towel dried rings and will stir and shake this around some. The rings are a little tacky and will make only as much dredge as we actually need stick to their surface. Be sure and shake off excess or you will end up with a bunch of sediment in your oil after cooking which will need to be filtered out if you want to re-use the oil.
And here we see some rings covered with our spice mixture. Notice that even with the peppercorns, the dredge is still mostly white.
And here we have 2 lbs coated and separated and ready to fry. Note that I have the tentacles nicely coated in here too. I love them not only for their texture and flavor but their appearance adds an exotic element to the presentation of the dish as well.
Before cooking we want to get the oil as hot as possible. I have about 2-2.5 cups of peanut oil here so I will heat this for about two and a half minutes on full blast from my wok burner. You want the oil extremely hot. If you look at the flames above, they are going almost up to the top on all sides. The oil will heat fast.
I will say this now – this dish is impossible to cook on an indoor stove. You will not get the oil hot enough on a stove with a 50,000 BTU or less burner. The coating will be soggy and the squid will be like rubber. Because even if you do get the oil to 600 degrees, the squid will cool the oil too fast and it will take a weaker stove too long to get the oil back up to temp preventing the seasoned dredge from crisping up.
I was watching Andrew Zimmern yesterday on a rerun of Bizarre Foods and he was doing a special on cuisine in Mississippi, focusing on Delta foods. He ate with a Chinese American family in Mississippi that were making some Chinese, Mississippi Delta fusion dishes on a burner like mine with their wok outside. And Andrew said “If this doesn’t make you want to get an outdoor wok burner, I don’t know what will!” I could not agree more! One thing that was very striking to me was watching a very Chinese looking woman talk about her heritage cuisine with a very Southern Mississippi drawl. To see it yourself, look on this Travel Channel episode recap. This has a special place in my heart because my older son is a student at Mississippi State University. Again, for less than $100 you can have a wok burner like this and make the same kinds of cuisine.
When you drop the squid into the oil it should bubble furiously as mine is above. It took me about three batches fried separately to cook all the squid.
And here I let it cook for about 75 seconds. You want the outside to be a light golden color (not brown) when you remove the squid. Have a bowl lined with paper towels standing by for this.
You will want to have a large slitted spoon or screen scoop with which to quickly remove the squid from the hot oil. Let the oil sit for about ten seconds each time before adding subsequent batches. Special thanks goes to my friend Lesley Litt for taking the pictures while I fried these. Your help was much appreciated and I am glad you enjoyed the squid with us!
What the extreme heat does is makes a slightly crispy, seasoned crust on the outside of the squid pieces that makes them absolutely delectable.
After all the squid has been cooked, I empty almost all the oil out of the wok (except for maybe 2 tablespoons) and get that oil smoking hot. Then I put the squid back in and toss in the aromatics.
You want to mix the aromatics and squid well, tossing them around for maximum flavor.
Note how high my burner heat is. This is essential to this dish.
And at the table it is ready for serving with rice. I normally like to serve a soup before the squid but did not here. Note the bowl of hot chili paste above. Since I did not cook this with hot peppers (I had guests here that could not abide the heat) I used that paste spooned over my squid.
I love taking a piece of squid with some garlic and green onions and eat that and follow it with a clump of plain steamed white rice. The alternating savory and bland flavors play very well together.
With the chili paste, the dish becomes very spicy-hot. You will see people eating it this way in Chinese restaurants as well. The hair on the back of my head will get soaked with sweat as I eat this. But this dish is truly divine and I consider myself blessed that I can cook it at home as well as it is in a restaurant.
And the inevitable result is above. You will not have any leftovers of the squid. In fact, you will probably get (as I did) people asking you if there is any more in the kitchen. I suppose you could cook a lot and have leftovers. But if you do, do NOT reheat them in a microwave. You will want to toast them in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10-12 minutes. I find that reheating the squid in this way will get it pretty close to the way it was when you scooped it out of the wok.
Without any more pomp and ceremony, here is the recipe.
Salt and Pepper Squid (serves 5-6)
- 2 lbs squid tubes (or rings) and tentacles (fresh or thawed).
- 4 cups uncooked white rice.
- 2-2.5 cups peanut oil.
- 1 cup rice flour.
- 3/4 cup corn starch.
- 4 Tbs finely ground white peppercorns.
- 1 Tbs finely ground black peppercorns.
- 1 Tbs finely ground green peppercorns (optional – I added this because I happened to have them but they are not really necessary).
- 2 tsp finely ground Schichuan peppercorns.
- 3-4 Tbs fine grained sea salt (to taste – I like using 4 Tbs).
- 2 tsp monosodium glutamate (gourmet powder) (optional but if you omit it, it will noticeably change the flavor of the dish).
- 1.5 cups chopped green onions.
- 1/4 cup minced fresh garlic.
- 1/4 cup sliced Thai chili peppers (optional).
- Begin to cook the rice in a rice cooker or in a pot.
- Cut the squid tubes into rings if necessary.
- Mix the ground peppercorns, salt and msg into the starch and rice flour mix.
- Mix the squid pieces into the dredge and toss well to coat each piece.
- Set dredged squid pieces aside.
- Preheat your oil in the wok and get it extremely hot.
- Fry the squid in batches. I find that 2/3 lb of squid at a time works best.
- Put each batch into a paper towel lined bowl to drain.
- When all squid is cooked, dump out most of the oil into a container to save the oil to use again later.
- Put the cooked squid back into the wok with about 2 Tbs oil.
- Toss in the green onions, garlic and sliced chilis.
- Toss the squid with the aromatics and mix well.
- Place in a paper towel lined bowl and serve with steamed white rice.
- Provide chili paste as desired.
- Save leftover dredge in a sealed container and refrigerate for use later.