I’m not much of a fisherman, but I did catch a squid once.
I was about ten at the time, agog with excitement about my first fishing trip on my uncle’s boat. Okay, I was seasick and my man-sized life jacket felt like I’d been secured with a sturdy belt between two sofa cushions, but that was fun in itself. I hooked a flathead – a big one, I say in all modesty – and the fish itself was just shimmering into view below when a large squid, about twice the size of the fish itself (this is a fishing story after all) and moving at an amazing clip launched up out of the deep and enfolded my fish in its tentacles. It was almost more than I and my rod, now bent into a U-shape, could handle, but I managed to land both. That evening, my dad bravely cleaned the squid and I had fried calamari. A great taste experience and an indelible childhood image all in one.
I’m a big fan of Filipino adobo, a Spanish-influenced dish that involves cooking pretty much anything (meat, seafood, chillies, eggplant, etc) in a sauce composed of soy, vinegar, black pepper, bay leaf, and garlic. I learned about adobo from the wonderful food blog Burnt Lumpia, written by Marvin Gapultos. Marvin now operates the first Filipino food truck in LA, and seems to be scooping endless favourable food press. I wish I was in LA, and it’s not often you’ll hear me say that. Anyway, I tried several of his chicken adobo recipes before getting more adventurous and moving on to eggplant and pork ribs. And last night – squid, courtesy of the Olympia Seafood Company.
Something that I did not know about squid is that there are only two ways to cook it – very briefly, or very slowly. Medium squid results in that texture Jim Harrison characterized as “nature’s rubber bands.” Briefly, best done over a char grill or barbecue for no more than two minutes, must be wonderful, but will have to wait until I have an open flame source. Slowly requires at least 30 minutes of simmering, or until the squid ‘returns to tender.’ And then it possesses the most delightful texture and flavour, especially in a rich and pungent adobo sauce. The recipe that follows is my own, cobbled together out of little scraps of spare internet, but leans heavily on Marvin Gapultos’s version:
Filipino Squid Adobo (Adobong Pusit)
1 lb cleaned baby or smallish squid, tubes and tentacles
1 Tb vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced into half moons
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 tsp brown sugar
1/6 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sugarcane vinegar (I sometimes use coconut or apple cider)
¼ cup water
For me, the exact amount of vinegar and soy sauce can be a little random, but the important thing is to retain the 2:1 ratio. As for the kind of vinegar – well, adobo is adobo and it’s not really going to hurt to use plain old white distilled. But apple cider vinegar, or coconut or sugarcane, really add a new dimension to the dish. And if you become an overnight adobo addict like I did, you’re going to use up that exotic bottle of vinegar pretty quick. Plus, a shot of apple cider vinegar is a great pick-me-up. Try it.
Heat the oil in a nice heavy pan and sauté the onion for about ten minutes or until it is getting nice and browned. Add the garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, and sugar, and cook a minute more before adding the soy, vinegar, and water. Simmer this concoction on low heat for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat up the water for the rice (white rice is compulsory for adobo, to soak up and slightly dilute the powerful sauce).
Cut the squid bodies – the tubes – into rings. Perhaps you might want to remove the two enormously long tentacles as well, unless you like the idea of squid spaghetti. Add the squid to the adobo sauce and simmer for at least 30 minutes, or until tender for the second time. Serve over white rice.