Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Chieko's Fermented Squid (Ika no shiokara)...

Always happy to hear from my readers, sheer delight ensued when a conversation began from a post comment on an off-the-cuff matter-- offals! This American reader from New Mexico favoured my recipe Spicy Pork Intestine Stir-Fry with Pickled Mustard Greens and expressed her love for nose to tail eating in wicked detail-- just read the comments :D. She tells me Super Walmarts particularly those near Latino communities carry offal, such as tripe, tongue, beef intestines, trotters and even an entire pig's head-- who knew? Half-Japanese, Chieko talks about her adoration of pickling, brining, and curing meats like pork liver, beef and salmon. She makes this amazing Japanese raw squid that was featured as squid guts on the show Fear Factor... Fear what? She says she would have guzzled it-- lol. Hearing this, a light bulb lit up.. Halloween is just around the corner and how timely is a potentially scary recipe post on squid guts :D. This fermented squid dish was lauded by my brother as a must try when I first visited Japan way back when-- and I absolutely loved it! Easy with just two ingredients, the squid cleaning is really not that difficult and the results well worth it! And so, it is with great pleasure to have Chieko as my guest to break it all down, and show us there's really nothing to fear... Take it away my offal friend!

Chieko Thompson
When I was four, during lunch one rainy day in Massachusetts, out of nowhere I asked my mother if I could peel an onion. She just gave me a quizzical look and said, "I guess." It had always fascinated me when I'd watch her peel onions with the nakiri knife she'd brought with her from Japan. She actually let me use that knife and I successfully peeled an onion that afternoon. I think that's when I became interested in cooking. Scary to think a four year-old was handling a sharp Japanese knife! 

I went on to become a photographer, water skier, skydiver, pilot, and mother. Despite all those activities, I still always loved to cook and experiment with food. Luckily, I got to spend a lot of my adult life along the coast of Florida so had access to some super-fresh seafood often times right off the boat. Other times I'd go harvest my own oysters, mussels, blue crabs, and of course go fishing. I miss those days. 

The first time my mother made ika no shiokara "food fit for the gods" from some squishy tentacled things, I thought she was the most talented person on Earth that day! Today I share it with you...

In Japan ika no shiokara is known as a hangover cure, eaten with a bowl of hot rice and washed down with a cold beer. Yes, hair-of-the-dog, breakfast-of-champions much like ceviche is touted as a hangover cure in South America. 

Ika no shiokara is salted squid. It's been referred to as fermented squid guts. As you'll see with the preparation, most of what's salted is the flesh from the squid tubes and tentacles. This dish is lightly fermented due to the break down of protein by proteases (enzymes) found in the digestive glands of squid. Needless to say, only whole squid can be used. Pre-cleaned squid will not work because the digestive gland will have been removed. I recommend squid with tubes 4" to 6" long (tentacles not included). Large squid have a big digestive gland that tends to be a bit bitter and the flesh tougher. I use frozen squid and leave the skin on for its bespeckled appearance. Squid are not difficult to clean. Preparing the batch for this post took 30 minutes for 1.15 lbs. Make sure your knife is sharp.

Cook's Note: If you can only get squid thawed, soak them in baking soda dissolved in cold water for about 30 minutes. Rinse and drain well. At this point, they can be frozen for later use. If using right away, place in freezer for about 30 minutes. This will make the squid much easier to handle.

Chieko's Squid Guts (Ika no shiokara)

Frozen squid, completely thawed
Table or sea salt
(yup no measurements)

Pull the head from the tube (body). Cut to remove tentacles just in front of the eyes. Open tentacles to reveal small black bird-like beak encased in a little sphere. Remove with your fingers and discard. Cut behind the eyes. Discard the remainder of the head.

Cut the innards into pieces and place into a bowl. Now slice the squid tube without slicing all the way through, off the mid-line. Pull apart the flesh and remove the quill that runs the entire length. Slice the squid into roughly 2" x 1/4" strips. Cut the tentacles into individual ones.  Do this for all the squid. 

Collect these parts for discarding.

Salt generously with plain old table salt or regular sea salt. I made a batch from some super expensive sea salt once and it just didn't taste right. Mix well. When it starts to develop a froth and bubbles, you're good to go (enzymes are working). Place into a non-reactive container, cover and refrigerate for four hours, preferably eight or overnight.

NOTE: If you'd like to remove some of the saltiness, rinse well under cold water several times then drain. Sometimes the ika no shiokara may darken after being in the fridge, likely from the ink sac. Just rinse and it will go away.

Cover and refrigerate for four hours, preferably eight or overnight.

Serve in a small bowl (a little goes a long way), garnish with chopped green onion, some chili peppers, and sesame seeds. Don't forget hot steamed rice and wasabi! I prefer lemon juice and/or a fruit vinegar with mine. Cider and rice vinegar are good, too. Just don't let the squid sit too long in acid or it will get tough. 

Ika no shiokara will keep for two to three days in the fridge, even after being rinsed. It can be frozen up to a month (so you'll have some handy for that hangover! LOL).

Susan says, "This is too lovely... I can't wait to make it and savour its fermented salty taste like I did in Japan over a decade ago. I haven't had this since. I really love the dishes and creative plating-- it's so perfectly Japanese :D!

The fish plate and cat dish were originally gifts to my mother from me. When she passed
away, I ended up getting back some of the gifts I'd given her over decades. RIP, Mom!

Creative Suggestions: 

An excellent ceviche can also be made from this. Add lemon or lime juice to onions, cilantro, tomato, garlic and hot peppers first and let marinate 20-30 minutes. Mix in the squid five minutes before serving. Serve on a bed of greens or in fancy martini or margarita glasses!

Toss with olive oil, cracked pepper, some chili flakes, chopped tomato, fresh basil, and some lemon juice. Serve with mozzarella on crusty bread. Calamari Caprese!

You can also use the squid after having rinsed it in any dish that calls for squid such as in a stir-fry, or in marinara sauce, etc. Cook it for a minute. Don't worry, it will continue to cook when removed from the heat, just not overcooked like rubber bands. Just remember the squid is already salted so adjust your additional seasoning accordingly.

Itadakimasu! (bon appétit)


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Jaelle! I agree, Chieko really delivered on the dish, photography and how-to-- no stone was left unturned :D.

  2. Chieko is my sister and has always been the adventurous one with food. She takes advantage of local produce and has made wonderful sauces and spice mixes. We've enjoyed hot sauce made from NM Hatch chiles to marmalade made from the oranges in her FL backyard. It's always a treat!

    1. Hi there, so nice to meet you. Talk about cooking from scratch and with local and home grown harvest too-- that's the best. Oranges in her backyard? Wow! I hope you enjoy cooking too and have cooked together with Chieko. My family get togethers are often filled with cooking affairs, with everyone making our faves! Sharing great food and memories with fam. Can't get better than that. Thanks for sharing. Cheers!

  3. Oranges were from back when I lived in FL.

    1. Yes I realized :D. You are in NM now-- growing any produce there? I only have a patio balcony, and tried strawberries, herbs and tomatoes. Only the grape tomato plant is thriving now.

    2. I gave up. Patio container gardening was being devastated by bugs. Mainly thrips. Had a bit of success with garlic chives and mint. They're perennials but after some time they didn't make it. I love gardening but it's very inexpensive to just buy stuff at the Asian market. Oh, well.

  4. So I've been meaning to go squid jigging for years. I've seen people catch surprisingly big squid off the piers in the Pacific Northwest, jigging up and down with a fishing pole while shining bright lights powered by a car battery into the water to attract the squid. Big ones; I mean, one squid would be a meal for sure. Now, assuming we actually manage to brave the cold rainy nights to stand alongside the old Scandinavians and Asians who keep this tradition alive in our area, I'm wondering if we actually catch one, would the fresh squid, with fresh digestive enzymes, behave differently in this recipe? Is freezing a necessity for the performance of the fermentation or a convenience for people who don't live next to the water?

    1. Fresh is the best but if the squid is large, you'll have to use only about half of the digestive gland. A bit of a different prep. Ask me more questions and I'll try to help you out.

    2. Frozen is because most people can't go jigging for squid!

    3. Hi Carly, Lucky you can even consider jigging. Chieko is all ears with your questions :D. Cheers!

  5. Chieko, my Vietnamese chef friend makes this with yuzu and hondashi ginger. He says the calamari uses is a special one with the eggs. That makes it murky and dark.

  6. Awesome post. It was a staple of ours at dinner when I was living in Japan. My wife and I never thought to make our own because it was so cheap to buy, but homemade looks so much fresher and tastier judging by your lovely photos. Will definitely try your recipe ��

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