Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Saki ika" dried and seasoned squid tempura さきイカの天ぷら

As I mentioned in previous posts, Japanese have many pre-packaged drinking snacks. The variety of which far exceeds American counterparts of mixed nuts, gold fish– cracker not the real fish, beef jerky and mini-pretzels. One rather common snack is thin strands of semi-dried and seasoned squid called "Saki ika" さきイカ meaning "torn squid". This is a modern commercial product derived from an old fashioned dried squid or "Surume" スルメ.
surumeWhen I was growing up, "surume"  was a rather common snack, not necessarily just a drinking snack. This was a dried whole flattened squid. To eat, you have to first grill it lightly and then tear it along the grain into thin strips (it can easily be torn into strands by hand with an occasional application of teeth). It is very chewy like old leather and you have to work on it for a while in your mouth before it’s soft enough. As you chew, more flavors will come out. In fact a Japanese saying, "The more you chew, the more flavor you get" 噛めば噛むほど味が出る equates the effort you need to extract full flavor from dried squid to the effort you need to extract meaning and joy out of life; or subtle but real goodness can only be appreciated with substantial effort. But even in Japan, vigorous use of the masseter muscle is not an exercise people like to do. So much-easier-to-eat pre-cooked, seasoned, and pre-torn dried squid in a package is more common, replacing the old-fashioned "surume".  You could just eat "saki ika" as is (there are many variations but, in general, it has a somewhat sweet seasoning). Or you could used it in a dish. This tempura or fritter version is supposedly a classic Izakaya affair.  I have not seen or eaten it before so I decided to try it.
I checked a few recipes but, in the the end, as usual, I used my common sense and altered or combined several recipes.
The picture to the left is the "saki ika" I bought from the near-by Japanese grocery store. It said "a letter from shore" and "directly sent from where it was caught" but, who knows, this may have been made from squid caught off African shores and previously frozen. In any case, this is how I made this dish.

Dried and seasoned "saki ika" squid: I am not sure how much is in one package but I used the whole thing for two good sized servings. I first soaked the squid in an equal mixture of sake and water (2Tbs each) in a bowl and let it soften for 30 minutes. I then wrung out the excess moisture and wrapped it in a paper towel.

Tempura batter: I have experimented in the past what made the best tempura batter including the use of Vodka in a mix. This time I used cake flour, club soda (carbonated water) and dried "aonori" 青海苔 seaweed. I first mixed the flour and aonori in a bowl (the amount is arbitrary, the proper consistency is what you are after, you have to adjust the amount of flour and the water, accordingly). Just before frying, I mixed in the cold club soda and quickly mixed to make a runny pancake batter consistency. I added more flour and water as I needed to make the amount of batter I needed. But do not over mix otherwise the gluten will develop.

Oil: I used peanut oil for deep frying. I heated the oil to about 170C (335F). I placed the softened squid strips in the batter to make a small bite size portion. As I placed it in the hot oil, I tried to spread it into a flat disk-shape so that the strands of squid didn’t bunch up too much. I fried for few minutes turning once. The oil may have been too hot. The edges got a bit too dark (the seasoning of the squid apparently contains sugar) but it was not burnt and did not affect the taste too much.

As you can see in the first picture, I served this with a wedge of lemon and mayo mixed with soy sauce and Japanese 7 flavor red pepper flakes 七味唐辛子.

This is an excellent drinking snack. The "saki ika" squid has just right consistency, not chewy but not too soft, with very light crispy tempura crust. I was afraid the squid may became too fishy but that was not the case. Using carbonated water in the tempura batter really worked. Among other methods I tried, this is the simplest and most effective. As much as we liked this dish very much, it is not particularly "healthy". To compensate, I served a simple refreshing "sunomono" 酢の物 salad dish following this.
This is just cucumber, wakame (did not show up well in the picture) and tomato dressed in seasoned sushi vinegar and topped with crumbled soft semi-dried scallop from Hokkaido 北海道.

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