One of my favorite things to eat as a kid was a Chinese dish known as (literally) "peppery salty squid." It derives its name from a special seasoning of coarsely ground salt and pepper, and over the years, I've seen millions of clumsy translations like "Salty Peppery Fried Squid", "Peppery Deep Fried Squid", etc. The ingredients below are given for approximately 1 8-inch piece of tube squid, cleaned out and without the tentacle and head parts. The only reason I even bother to give quantities is because the consistency of the batter is rather important, so it's nice to have a guide.
- 1 pc squid
- 3 egg yolks
- ≈1/3 to 1/2 cup flour
- 1-2 Tbs water
- Pepper-salt powder (See Notes)
- Red pepper flakes
- Oil for deep frying
- After cleaning your squid, cut across it to split it into two large flat pieces then down the middle of each piece, giving you four strips of squid.
- Next is the scoring. This part is not STRICTLY necessary, but it helps to improve the texture greatly. If you're too lazy, you can just cut the squid into strips; just know that it won't taste nearly as good. Score the squid with a series of lines at 45 degrees to the piece of squid, spaced about 1/2 inch apart. Hold your knife so that it is at an angle of about 45 degrees to the surface of the squid. Then score the squid with another series of lines, perpendicular to the ones above. You should end up with a sort of "grid" like so:
Important things to note here are that the knife should be at a 45 degree angle to the surface of the squid, and when scoring you should cut into about 30% of the thickness of the piece of squid, never exceeding 50% (or the piece will break apart). Cut the squid into pieces (I like about 4 pieces per strip), using some of the scoring lines.
- Mix up the egg yolks, and drop the pieces of squid in, coating it thoroughly. Add a spoon of water or two to make it easier to mix, and season it with a little bit of salt. Begin adding the flour, until you achieve a thick batter. A good measure of when it's "ready" is to take one piece of squid in your hand, and flip your hand upside-down: if the squid sticks, it's good to go.
- Heat up your oil for deep-frying. Some people like thermometers; I don't think it's necessary. To test when it's ready, simply drop a small piece of batter into the oil. If it floats, expands, and starts fizzing a bit, then the oil is ready. After that, it's just a matter of making sure you regulate the temperature correctly.
- Drop the squid into the oil, being careful not to burn it (or let it cool down too much). Take it out after the batter expands and hardens, and is starting to become golden brown. Let the squid rest on a plate lined with some paper towels to absorb the oil.
- This part is not strictly necessary either, but I find it improves the crispness. After the first frying, let the oil heat up a little bit more for a few minutes, then drop the squid in there again for approximately 1 min. Take it out, and let it rest as above.
- While waiting for the squid to cool down, mince some garlic and scallions.
- Heat up a wok or a frying pan, and throw the pepper flakes, scallions, and garlic in there to fry. Note that there is no oil being used; this is just to get them to release some flavor. Just be careful not to burn anything; burnt garlic is one of the worst tastes in the world.
- Throw the squid in, and season generously with the pepper-salt powder (again, see notes). Generous is the key word here; the combination of the salty and the spicy is what gives this dish its little sort of je ne sais quois. Give it a quick final toss so it crisps up some more and is coated in the pepper flakes, scallions, etc, and it's ready to plate.
- Pepper-salt powder is my botched translation of an ingredient that consists mainly of... Well, salt and pepper. It's a very widely used ingredient in chinese cuisine, and chances are you will be able to find it at any asian market. However, if you are not, it's very easy to make it at home. All you need is some salt, some peppercorns, and a mortar & pestle. Simply put the grains of salt in with a peppercorn or two and grind away. I like leaving mine a bit coarse. The quality of the salt is important here; I would recommend at least a good sea salt or kosher salt. Personally, I like using sea salt mixed with fleur de sel to give it an extra zing. I won't outright ban the use of Iodized Salt (like Morton) here, but... Just know that whoever chooses to use it is a heathen.
More than any other piece of kitchen equipment, knives hold a special place in any cook's heart. Unlike a pot, a stove, or a pan, a knife is really the "best friend" of anyone in the kitchen, the object that is depended upon the most to perform and perform well. This relationship is not unlike that of a golfer with his clubs, or a tennis player with his racquet. And while there are reams and reams of text to write on the subject of kitchen knives (and trust me; it will be written), I would like to start with the first and the fundamental: Choosing the appropriate knives.
Kitchen knives are very personal objects. This is the first and most important point to consider whenever buying a knife; everything else is nearly immaterial in comparison. So when buying a knife, the most important thing is how it feels in your hand; never buy a knife you don't like the feel of in your hand, or you're in for a world of regret. I don't care if it's $5000 and studded with ethically mined diamonds and sharpened by rhesus monkeys; just don't. This is why I do not recommend anyone with little experience buy a knife without trying it first. That being said, you do get what you pay for. Obviously an Ittosai yanagiba is not going to have the same quality in materials, tempering, etc as a $15 knife from Target; but honestly, most people won't need to spend a penny above $50 to get a knife that can last them a lifetime with proper care. Hell, any piece of metal that holds an edge could work out.
I've seen chefs that carry their personal set of knives in a sleeve with them wherever they go. This is not necessary. Neither are the fancy $800 knife sets that come with wood blocks. In reality, the number of knives that most people will ever need is one. With a bit of information and an ability to adapt, one knife will be more than enough.
In a one-knife scenario, I can only recommend two types of knives: the western chef knife or the Chinese cleaver. The reason is versatility. Both types have a decent heft to them, which allows for everything up to and including chopping melons. The flats of their blades can be used to crush garlic, and the backs can be used to tenderize meat. The flats can also serve as a surface to transport food from the cutting board to the pan. You can slice, you can dice, you can take your bloody hand off. And despite their initial appearances (especially in the case of the Chinese knife), they can also be used for some very intricate cuts. Needless to say these two are definitely the do-it-alls of the knife world.
Though it is possible to find 6" western chef knives, 8" is definitely the most common size, which is problematic for people with smaller hands; thus, a possible alternative would be the Japanese santoku. However, I would not necessarily recommend this; in my opinion, the knife's size and design does not afford it the same versatility as the above mentioned knives. Also without going too far into it, while santoku knives do have a lot of merit in and of themselves, they have recently grown into a western fad; this results in many knockoffs and reproductions that are not true in keeping to the original traits and strengths of the original santoku design. Because of this, I would especially advise beginners to just avoid it altogether.
Another thing to watch out for is a serrated edge. Even if the knife is shaped like a chef's knife, a serrated edge is to be avoided at all costs. Not only are they problematic to maintain, serrations cause great harm to the quality of food when slicing a lot of things; for example, they absolutely wreck the capillaries in meat, and forget about cutting cleanly through anything fibrous such as celery. Serrated edges are usually pretty obvious to spot and easy to avoid; the exception to this is the "DD edge" that is touted by Cutco as the Second Coming of the knife world. As much as Cutco would like to deny it, their DD edge does classify as a serration, and is therefore something to be avoided.
Notice how I didn't really mention brand (excepting my quick snark at Cutco, but nobody can blame me for that one, right?); whether Misono knives are better than Wusthof or Calphalon, or whether Japanese steel is better than or inferior to German steel. I may write general critiques of specific makers in the future, but it will just be pure opinion, because in the end none of it really matters. It's like trying to argue makes for cars. There are luxury models and budget models, and all it boils down to is preference with a dash of practicality. So it is in this case. Choose well and with a bit of care, $50 will buy a knife that will serve all your needs and still outlive your children.