Salt and Pepper Squid

Sometimes I feel that writing a blog is a bit like being that guy at a party. You know him. He takes a corner of the room to himself and, tweaked out on plant food & bad coke, draws anyone near him into interminable conversations about his family, his future, his frustrations. His face is drawn and lined with the stress of his habits and he hasn’t shaved or slept for days. Consequently, he looks a bit like a pinched ballsack.

I know how she feels. Trapped between the "I'm just kind of crazy" guy and the one who reads Baudelaire aloud from his beanbag in between bong hits

I try to avoid the trap of solipsism and listen to my friends, family and food-loving acquaintances in the interests of self-improvement. Sometimes, however, I’m delighted that I’ve stubbornly taken my own route despite all nudging and directing. Cooking salt and pepper squid was one of those times. I’ve been toying with the idea of putting actual photographs on the blog. Of the food, that is, rather than painted dogs and testicle-shaped fish.

This is not necessarily a problem in its own right – I know that many food blog readers are more interested in the mouthwatering pictures that some bloggers use (I’m looking at you, here, Stu Ovenden) than the text. But in this situation the unfortunate combination of my own utter incompetence with a camera and the fact that squid look a bit like something a seven year old boy has dredged out of his nostril, but massively enlarged, means that my photographs are so off-putting that I spent much of Sunday trying to find an internet cafe that could print them off before symbolically burning them.

That last bit is a lie. Except in literature it’s called hyperbole and is therefore permissible. For these purposes, this blog is temporarily literature with the goal of saving my shrivelled soul from yet another sin. Suffice to say, there will be no photographs. Not now, not ever.

Anyway, there’s a little Japanese restaurant in Greenwich called Zin. It’s on Trafalgar Road, a busy thoroughfare for traffic passing through the historical city-village to the Blackheath tunnel. Zin sits next to a pub that serves anaemic lager and has almost equally wan, peeling wallpaper. Directly opposite there’s a plywood-panelled barbershop, habitually populated by grizzled gents and a lingering smell of cloves and turds.

But Zin is truly a diamond in the rough. They serve substantial portions of well-balanced, traditionally prepared Japanese cuisine. If you do venture to that strange little corner of London, I can’t recommend it enough. In Zin’s price bracket one would usually expect MSG, microwaves and formica topped tables. Instead, the casual punter is met with smiles and squid.

This is my rendition, cooked up to placate my aching heart. This, for me, is the culinary equivalent of methadone. If you want it done right, really right, then go to Zin. Nowhere else will do.

Salt and Pepper Squid

  • 750g squid
  • About 10 sichuan peppercorns. This would fill about half a teaspoon, I guess
  • Same again black peppercorns
  • About 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seed
  • Two teaspoons sea salt flakes
  • Two big spring onions, sliced into rings
  • Handful of fresh coriander
  • One green chilli, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • The juice of half a lemon
Clean the squid and open along one side of the pouch. Open the squid up and separate the tentacles. Slice the squid into bitesize pieces, including the tentacles.

Bash the peppercorns and mustard seed with a pestle and mortar before stirring in the sea salt. Toss through the squid pieces.

Heat a good splash of oil in a wok until smoking and add the squid. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, until just starting to brown a little. Add the remainder of the salt and pepper mixture that didn’t stick to the squid along with the chilli and garlic. Stir fry for another minute or so, or until the garlic is a dark brown. Remove from the heat and mix with the fresh coriander and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.

Serve quickly with a cold beer.

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9 responses to “Salt and Pepper Squid

  1. It’s impossible to make this dish look pretty – I know, I’ve tried – but it’s bloody delicious. Like the mustard in here.

  2. Dude, there is nothing wrong with MSG – even Harold McGee says so …

    I applaud your anti-food photo stance though

  3. Gorgeous photos, that squid looks absolutely divine…ahem, sorry, I mean sounds divine. No actual pictures here of course. Must remember to properly read a post before commenting… (comment whores beware)…

    Seriously though, sounds like a great recipe. I’m always worrying about the quality of photos on my blog – maybe the answer is to leave them off unless they look amazing.

    • I think in most cases it’s almost churlish to leave out the photos. It’s just that in my case they do always look so unappetising compared to the real thing. If I could do the stuff justice I’d absolutely have pictures of the food, albeit shaped into compromising positions.

  4. I looooove squid! I may well try this out, now I have decided I would start cooking again…. 🙂

  5. A lot of people don’t realise that MSG is perpetually used as an ingredient within other common additives, there’s loads of it in stock cubes, which European chefs swear by! I have absolutely no beef with it. Your writing remains first-class by the way… Great effort.

    • I don’t have a problem with MSG either. I love it and its umami kick. However, I do think that you can replicate that taste sensation in other, more interesting ways.

      Thanks for the compliment, Ollie, always appreciated.

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