Friday, February 5, 2010

Three Cup Squid with Mushroom


Alternately titled: Foods I Will Never Cook for My Soon-to-be In-Laws :)

Three Cup Chicken (三杯雞) is a popular dish in Taiwan, and deservedly so. It's salty and savory and adds a lot of great flavor to otherwise flavorless chicken. For those who don't know, it's called Three Cup Chicken because the chicken is cooked in a broth consisting of one cup of soy sauce, one cup of rice wine and one cup of sesame oil. With those flavors, it's already got a pretty amazing umami blast going on.

But.

I posit that Three Cup Squid is an even better dish - all that savory yumminess, plus the distinctive flavor of squid (which still shines through, even in such a flavorful sauce) and mushrooms to ratchet up the savory quotient. Those in the know use mushroom and squid to exponentially increase umami (Japanese for "deliciousness", said of that deep savory flavor found in glutamates - including MSG - that is naturally occurring and is part of why we crave protein-rich foods).

So, to test it out, I cooked it up the other night for our friends, and as predicted, it was a huge hit. Here's my recipe:

2-3 medium size squid, gutted and sliced into even pieces - you can also take the pink skin off but don't need to
1 packet tofu - softish but not silken
1 packet of those cool mushrooms with the brown, slightly feathery tops (although almost any mushroom will do)

1 cup soy sauce - I use 1/2 Kikkoman XO soy sauce, 1/2 cup Kikkoman sweet soy sauce
1 cup rice wine - I use Shaoxing because it's got the best umami-ness
1 cup sesame oil
1/4 to 1/2 sliced sweet yellow onion

fresh sliced hot red chilis to taste
small handful of hua jiao (optional)
cilantro (to taste)
generous sliced or pressed garlic (to taste)
generous coined or sliced ginger (to taste)
1 capful lemon juice (it's good, trust me)
1/2 cup water (more if you find it too strong)
1 squirt squid oil or fish oil
Lao Gan Ma Guizhou red pepper paste with black beans (optional - I put this amazing stuff in everything; I'd put it in my coffee if I could. It's that good).

Lao Gan Ma looks like this, and you should buy it and at eat at least one jar a week. If, however, you ALL buy it from Jingmei and I can't get more easily, I will have to come after you with ninja throwing stars.



Method:

Pre-gut and slice the squid, wash and slice up mushrooms (or you could use them whole), open and cube tofu.

Warm up sesame oil on medium and add hua jiao. A few seconds later add garlic and ginger, then add onions and red chilis. Fry until there is a good smell.

Quickly add soy sauce, the squirt of squid oil and rice wine and lemon juice if you are using it. Also add Lao Gan Ma. Reduce heat to low medium and let it get warm. Add the water (to taste - get it to where you like it) and then let it come to a very low boil (not full boil). Add mushrooms and tofu and cook for 2 minutes or so.

This is where you need to be careful - squid cooks extremely fast and if you over-cook by even thirty seconds, it will become chewy and rubbery and take on an awful texture as well as losing a lot of its delicious flavor.

Turn up the heat to keep the mixture at a low, steady boil and add all the squid at once. Watch very closely. When the slices turn from translucent to opaque white and curl at the edges, it's done. Take it immediately off the heat. Serve with rice.

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