My parents started to teach me to cook with them when I was about 12 years old. This dish is probably one that I remember most about cooking with my dad. He would get dried squid and soak them in water overnight, adding in the charcoal and ashes from his garden bonfires. I used to wonder why he did that, and later I found out the ashes contain soda, which helps tenderise the squid, and charcoal deodorises the fishy smell. Nowadays, it’s easy to just buy the squid pre-soaked and softened from the market.
The most amazing culinary magic of this dish is how the strips of squid would curl up the moment they are cooked. And it is important to score the cross-hatch pattern only on the inside surface of the squid because the strips would turn out flat when cooked if you scored the squid on the wrong surface.
The result of scoring the inside surface works with both fresh and dried squid. You can forgo the scoring and squid will still curl during the cooking but you will not get that pretty strips of squid. Not only does the cross-hatch pattern look good in the finished dish, they create grooves to hold in the delicious gravy.
Squid needs to be only cooked briefly, so they are done the moment they start to curl. That’s the basic tenet of Chinese stir-fry, which is small bite-size pieces at high heat for a brief cooking period. That’s one of the basic cooking lessons I learned from my parents 40 years ago, which I know I will pass on to my kid when she learns to cook.
- 4 ribs celery
- 1 brown squid, medium
- 2 tbs cooking oil
- 1 inch ginger, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red chilli, seeded and cut into pieces
- 1 tbs Shao Hsing wine
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tbs oyster sauce
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- salt to taste
- 1 tsp tapioca flour + 2 tbs water
- Cut celery into 1/4-inch diagonal slices.
- Score inside of squid in a cross-hatch pattern, cut into 1-inch strips.
- Heat oil in wok on high. Sauté ginger, garlic, chilli and celery for 2 minutes.
- Add squid and stir fry until starting to curl.
- Add Shao Hsing wine, soy sauce, oyster sauce, pepper and salt to taste.
- Thicken with tapioca flour mixture.
- Serve immediately.