Ika is not Icky—in fact, it’s delicious!
Note: Ika is squid in Japanese.
“And this?”, holding up a fat brown football-shape in a clear packet.
“That’s a squid stuffed with rice.”
We are in Hakodate, a port city on the southwest coast of Hokkaido, and our education in squid is just beginning. Squid boats fish in the bay at night, and dock at the wharf in the day; the fish market has squid for sale and many are exported to other parts of Japan and beyond; restaurants offer squid in every way imaginable (and some not!); and fanciful squid cartoons and characters decorate signs around the city.
To backtrack a little…
On this trip to Japan, but especially in Hokkaido, we’ve had great fun learning much more—and doing plenty of tasting— about seafood in general, but here I’ll focus on squid, ika in Japanese.
As most people know, the Japanese love all kinds of seafood—shellfish and fish— and eat it in many different ways: raw as sashimi, pickled, cooked in batter, fried, marinated, dried, shaved, served on rice, served on a skewer, you name it and probably you’ll find it here.
Hokkaido is considered the premier place for fishing in Japan, and many of the cities have incredible fish markets. Every time we wandered on a fish market street, we were again amazed by the enormous variety of seafood, far more than we’ve ever seen elsewhere, including Seattle and its famous fish market, and most places in France, also well-known for seafood.
One weekend we went by train to Hakodate, the port city on the southwest coast of Hokkaido that was one of the 5 Japanese treaty ports opened in 1859. It’s a lovely city (more on that later) that is famous for a number of things, including squid, so we decided to track down this fishy creature—not hard to do, as it’s everywhere, in every form imaginable.
First we found out about how to catch this creature. At the Toyokawa Wharf we found many squid boats anchored and we could get a close look. The way to catch squid is by using strong light, and these boats all have many huge lanterns. When out at sea at night they are like bright spotlights. Squid jigging boat fishing lamps are arranged between fore and stern masts. We learned that the lights attract the squid, as well as many other types of fish, such as flounder, shrimp, walleye, smelt, white bass, Red Fish, cuttlefish, sardines, and mackerel. Commonly used is a 12 volts AC, 300w light that shines up to a 15-20 foot radius. According to commercial fishermen, they have better catches around the New Moon, as the fish are more attracted to the bright lights of the fishing boats when there is no moon to distract them.
Squid are targeted with 2 types of lures: Artificial jigs and baited skewers. The artificial jigs or “squid jigs” often look like prawns or sometimes like small fish. According to the website (www.squidfish.net ) squid fisherman seem to prefer the jigging method.
Apparently this year has not been a good year for squid fishing and the catch is right down. Therefore, only a few of the boats go out, as the fishermen say that it’s not economically viable most trips. They blame it on the much warmer weather pattern this summer, but we wonder if over-fishing is playing a part too.
Later, in Hakodate’s famous morning market we saw live squid swimming in tanks, fresh squid lined up for sale, dried whole squid hanging on hooks or packed in packets, a machine that dries and shreds squid, whole squid stuffed with rice, pickled squid, chopped squid. It’s a squid cornucopia and it’s fascinating. (But the squid are only one among many types of seafood offered).
That night we ate at a special seafood pub, called Kikuyu Shokudo, and enjoyed squid prepared in many ways: as sashimi, in tempura, fried, in a spicy sauce made with its ink, slightly pickled, grilled on a skewer. All washed down with mugs of local Hakodate beer. The variety of dishes was amazing and very enjoyable in such a great setting. I think my favorite this trip was the squid in tempura—the batter was so light and delicate and not oily at all.
Facts about Squid, Cuttlefish and Octopus (from Wikipedia):
Squids, Cuttlefish and Octopuses are mollusks that belong to the cephalopod group of invertebrates, meaning they have eight legs, or arms. In addition, cuttlefish and squid have 2 tentacles. Tentacles are longer than arms and they usually only have suckers at their tips.
Squid have a hard inner-body shell remnant, called a pen, for support instead of an outer one like clams and snails. The octopus, in contrast, has no shell at all. Its outer mantle, or skin, is thick and tough, protecting its boneless, fleshy body. Cuttlefish also belong to the cephalopod family, but have an internal structure called the cuttlebone, which is porous and composed of aragonite, to provide the cuttlefish with buoyancy. The cuttlebone is unique to cuttlefish, and is one distinct feature that makes them different from their squid relatives.
In general terms, squid tend to be more streamlined as most of them live well away from the shore, while most cuttlefish live near the shore and in association with the sea bottom. Cuttlefish tend to be broader and less streamlined.
There are many ways to cook and prepare squid. Some of the more interesting ways of cooking and/or preparing squid include: sashimi, salt dried squid, smoked squid, pickled squid, fried or boiled squid. The site mentioned above (www.squidfish.net ) also has many recipes, both Japanese and other cuisines.
Ika Shoga-yaki is simple but is a very popular dish in Japanese cuisine. Ika means squid, shoga means ginger and yaki means grill.
500 g (about 1 lb) squid, thinly sliced (squid rings)
2 tablespoons ginger, freshly grated
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. Combine ginger, soy sauce and mirin in a bowl.
2. Add thinly sliced squid to the bowl and mix until squid is coated with the sauce. Allow squid to marinade for about 15 minutes.
3. After 15 minutes, heat wok or skillet (pan) at high heat, then add oil.
4. Remove squid from bowl, making sure that any juices/marinate are left in the bowl. Reserve any marinate. Add squid into the hot pan.
5. Stir-fry squid quickly in the pan and cook until it changes color (about 7 minutes). Work quickly as overcooked squid will become rubbery.
6. Pour marinate into the pan and stir quickly.
7. Serve immediately with steamed rice and sprinkle with thinly-sliced green onions and baby bok choi.