Squid Pro Quo

Nemo Bay: 10:15 pm

GUESTS: Ned, Chuck, Patty

NED: [looking out to sea] Tonight's the night the prophecy will be fulfilled. Giant Squid-Man walks among us.

CHUCK: Perfect, Mr. Brown. The lights look great. Thanks a lot for coming out to cater this year's Giant Squid-Man Jam.
AB: Don't thank me, Chuck. I'm only here because a bet's a bet.
PATTY: Ha. I guess you didn't know about Chucky being National Junior Wacky Golf Champion four years running.
AB: No. I regrettably let my Wacky Golf Weekly expire.
C: So, what's in the cooler, Mr. B?
AB: Well, let's put it this way, Patty's not the only one loaded for squid.
P: You can't serve squid at the Giant Squid-Man Watch!
AB: Why not?
P: You, like, insult him. What if he sees us? What will we say?
AB: I don't know. We'll say squid are nutritious, delicious and plentiful.
P: But, but ...
AB: Then we'll tell him that no matter where you serve them or how you serve them, squid are good eats.

NED: [looking out to sea] He's close. Real close.

Nemo Bay

AB: Chuck, if your girlfriend doesn't get off the cooler we won't be eating.

C: Patty Cake, I'm sure the giant squid-man will be okay with our eating some squid.
P: Oh, yeah? Why?
AB: Because he doesn't exist, that's why.
P: I don't think Mr. "Alton Brown" would be so flippant if he knew the legend of the giant squid-man.
AB: Legend of the giant squid-man. This I gotta see.
N: And now, ladies and gentleman, the Legend Of The Giant Squid-Man.
C: [shadow puppets rear projected on a sheet] Long ago when ships crossed the seas by sail, a sailor on the midnight watch peered over the gunnel of his whaling ship and came face to face with a creature possessing eyes the size of volleyballs and a massive mouth with a horned beak like a parrot's. It was a 50 foot long cuttlefish* ...
AB: Chuck. I think you probably mean squid¤ which is a cephalopod of a whole other color.
C: Cephla-what?
N: Cephalopod. It means head-foot.
P: Because it's all head and foot, sweetie.
AB: Hey, hey, did that sailor look anything like Kirk Douglas?
N: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Disney, 1958, Oscar for best art direction. Douglas actually sang a song. Best screen squid ever. Heh.
P: Chuck, go ahead with your lovely story.
C: [glowering, he continues] The beast and sailor fell in love then and there. The couple came to live here on the shores of Nemo Bay. They spawned a love-child, half human, half squid, and they lived in peace until narrow-minded villagers killed the parents leaving the squid-boy an orphan. Eventually he grew into giant squid-man and now he returns once a year to ink up the bay.
AB: Speaking about that ink, you know a lot of Mediterranean dishes are colored and flavored with squid ink. And, cuttlefish ink which is brown, is used as a dye. That's where we get sepia tones.
P: Thank you, Mr. Funk & Wagnall.
N: Heh, heh.
P: Go ahead, Chuck. It's beautiful.
C: He returns once a year to claim a bride. If he can't find one he gets mad and chomps an unsuspecting villager to bits with his massive beak.
AB: Which evolved from the original bivalve shell.
P: Hush, you.
C: He then shoves the bits down his esophagus through his brain to his stomach.
AB: [laughing] Hey, he's got food on his mind. [laughing]
P: That's it. I've had enough of you, smarty-boy. [storms off]
AB: Sorry.

    One thing's for sure. When it comes to squid it's really easy to 'myth' up the facts. Yes, giant sea squid do dwell in ultra-deep waters and they've been mistaken as sea monsters for ages. And they are edible as most squid are. Only sperm whales are usually the only ones to get a bite of them. The squid** we eat are considerably smaller, usually in the 4 to 10 inch range. Now by the time we see them, they're usually ...

The Kitchen

... frozen. Sure you can find fresh squid in specialty and ethnic markets, especially between April and November when they spawn by the gazillions off the California coast. But, alas, most of what you're going to find in the great American Mega-Mart will be hard as a rock. You know what? That's okay because squid freezes and thaws better than any other mollusk around.
    When it comes to bringing this stuff back to the land of the limber, you've got two options. [the camera pans to the microwave] No, that box is not one of them. This [refrigerator] box, however, is. Just park this in the bottom shelf for 24 to 36 hours. Of course if you want to eat your squid today, you're going to have to go with a speed thaw. 

    Just take your block-o-squid out of the package and park it in a clean, water-tight container. I like to hold it down with a nice piece of plastic coated chain. There. Now put that underneath a very, very, tiny stream of cold water. There. Believe it or not that will be enough to keep convection moving inside that water and that's going to thaw the squid in about an hour.

Speed Thaw Gives You Ready To Use Squid in 1 Hour

    Depending on their size, squid are processed to different levels of culinary readiness. But before we get to slicing, let's take a look at some anatomy, shall we? [peering through a magnifying glass at some small squid] Here we have ... the ... uhhh. I can't see a thing on this stuff. [moves tray over to reveal a large squid] Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh. Now that's a squid.

    Here we have the tube. This is the main body of the squid. He's got some kind of rudder fins down there to steer him along. This contains all of the internal organs that the squid's got as well as his only true bone, a kind of feather-like thing called a pin bone which provides the only support except, of course, for the water that he's floating in. Moving on up we come to the head. This is where he does all of his big thinking. He's got two eyes, of course. And just as we have hair, he's got tentacles, 10 of them. And if you pull those back you'll find his mouth. There it is. The beak. That was the thing that almost took Captain Nemo's head clean off.






For fresh squid, look for firm, white flesh,
head and tentacles intact, and a clean smell.

The Kitchen

    Now with the Nautilus out of harm, we can get back to common culinary sizes of which there are generally two: small calamari and 10/20 calamari and they are called that because you generally get 10 to 20 pieces per pound. Now I like this size best. Why? Well, look at the proportions. The head and tentacles are exactly the same on these. But look at the tube size. You get a lot more meat out of these. And because of that you don't have to do so much work when it comes to cutting. So, I'm going to get rid of this [smaller] guy entirely.

Small Calamari
10/20 Calamari

    Generally, the head is still attached to the tubes. Just reach up and pull [out] gently and it'll come right out. Now as far as getting the tentacle portion or the head portion ready, just come up from where the tentacles are until you feel something kind of hard. Then just grab your knife and slice. We get rid of that [head] part and there is the tentacle portion. Some folks don't like it. I know I do.
    Now as far as prepping the body or tube the first thing is to remove these two rudder fins. They are extremely chewy. Then you've got this thing that looks kind of like, well you know, one of those things the pope wears. Just take a very, very thin blade, slide right in there until you get all the way up to the top and then just slice her open. When you get it open you'll notice there's kind of a membrane there. We want to get rid of that. So just take the blade of your knife and scrape. It'll come right off. Kind of scrape at an angle. There you go. And that's going to leave very, very clean meat. So what I like to do is take a utility knife and set it—a clean one of course—set it for the shallowest blade setting I can get and then just make little cross-cuts, cross-hatches across the squid, that way and this way. Now with the connective tissue all broken up like that, when it cooks it's not going to curl up on itself like a drinking straw. And the little grooves will also help hold on to some juice.

    The last thing is to cut this into quarters. Those are nice bite-size pieces.

A Squid is 80% edible.

Nemo Bay

C: So, how long will they keep?
AB: Well, in the bottom-back of your refrigerator in the meat drawer I give them 2 to 3 days top. You might be able to eke out an extra day in a properly packed cooler, though.
N: There's more than one way to pack a cooler?
AB: You don't do a lot of tailgating, do you Ned? Observe. [breaks open a cooler sideways to reveal the cross-section] Ahh. Here we have a proper cold stack. Notice everything is in firmly-sealing containers stacked in order of use from first to last.
C: Ah, the miracle of mise en place*.
N: Meez-in-where?
C: I'll tell you later. Go ahead, Mr. Brown. We wouldn't want to interrupt your story.

AB: Thanks, Chuck. Now I hate to see raw food and cooked food integrated in the same cooler. But if that's what you've got to do, make sure that you put the raw food on the bottom and the cooked food on the top so that you reduce the chances for cross-contamination, okay? Now on top of everything we're going to put a thin tea towel and then distribute cold packs all across the top.

    Cooked Food On Top    
Raw Food On Bottom

N: No ice?
AB: Nope. Ice is only for drinks.
C: Too much danger of aqueous migration.
N: [stares]
C: Leakage. Isn't that it, Mr. Brown?
AB: That is it. Of course the reason that we put the cold packs on top is because the [cold] air, of course, sinks. But I must stress this device is not here to make food cold. It will only keep it cold, so make sure everything is thoroughly refrigerated before you do the pack.
C: Great. I got it. I'm going to go look for Patty.

AB: Oh, wait, wait, wait. No, no, no, no, no. She's fine. Hold on. I want to show you something else. You know move people don't realize that you can also turn a cooler into, aaaah, a food warmer. [opens up another similar cooler] All you have to do is you get yourself a couple of bricks, wrap them in heavy duty aluminum foil, park them in a 500 degree oven for half an hour. These you place on top of a towel—thick, old one preferably—in the bottom of the cooler. Then over that you put another towel that's been moistened with hot water.

Wrap Bricks In Heavy Duty Foil
500° Oven For 1/2 Hour

N: What for?
C: Increased conduction.
AB: Again, the pack is the same in order of use from top to bottom, all of the containers tightly sealing. But here's the thing. Of course heat rises, right? That's why we've got the hot bricks in the bottom. But then every time you open the lid you let the hot air out. So, we're going to put another towel on top to act as insulation. That way when you open the lid and go around hunting for something, you're not going to let all the heat out. But of course you aren't going to have to look around much because you, cleverly, made a cooler schematic.
C & N: [burst out in laughter]
C: Ooooh, Mr. Brown. You are some funny.
AB: Yeah. Yeah. Just a little joke I ... I ... is that Patty? You better go look for her.

Fisherman often place high wattage lights
on the surface of the water to lure squid.

Nemo Bay

C: [on walkie-talkie] Patty? Patty Cake? This is ... [looks around, then quietly] ... Chucky? Come in?

C: Oh, Mr. Brown. I'm really worried. She's been gone way too long.
AB: Yeah?
C: I better go look for her ... Whoa! Say. What's with the wok?
AB: Well, the wok's kind of the ideal squid-cooking vessel, Chuck. And it's also really great for tailgating.
C: What makes it so special?
AB: Well, two things. For one, the metal. The very best woks which are also some of the cheapest, are actually made out of a high carbon steel and it's an excellent heat conductor. But the real secret's the shape. This bowl shape means that no matter what you have in it pools down to the bottom which is closest to the fire so you can cook large amounts, you can cook small amounts, doesn't matter. Oh, did I mention stir frying? Because this is the stir frying pan.
C: You know, I tried that once but it really didn't taste, um, right.
AB: Well, you probably didn't have any wok hey.
C: Oh, where can I get some?
AB: Um, no. It's, it's a word. It's a Chinese term that means the flavor of the wok.
C: Okay, but where can I get some?
AB: Oh, well, there's only one way to get wok hey and that's heat, lots of heat.

D: I found Patty's camera but no Patty.
C: You don't think ...
AB: Oh, don't worry, Chuck. I'm positive she did not get taken up by giant squid-man.
C: How do you know that?
AB: Well, because I saw her walking with Aqua Man just down the beach. [laughs]

 N: [to Chuck] His lack of faith disturbs me. Hey, what's that?

AB: Gentleman, why can't you get wok hey at home?
N: Wok what?
C: It's the flavor of the wok. Come on.
AB: You can't get wok hey at home because the average home range burner doesn't have enough oomph to get a wok really, really hot. This does, just an outdoor burner from a turkey fryer setup. I think this is going to revolutionize tailgating.
C: Yeah, this is all great. But shouldn't we look for Patty?
AB: Let the aroma of our stir fry lead her home.
N: Do you need this [fire extinguisher]?
AB: Oh, I hope not. But if you're going to play with fire, you've got to be protected. Are we clear on this?
C & N: Crystal.

AB: Okay, good. Now this is the procedure for lighting this bad boy.
      Number 1: all tubes are tightly connected.
     Number 2: valves are in the off position. There's always going to be two valves: the one on the tank and one in between the tank and the burner. Okay? Next we open the valve on top of the tank, right? But this one's still closed. Next we apply fire to the burner. Do not use a short lighter. Use a long lighter or a long match. And always bring your hand in underneath. Okay? [imitates what would happen if your hand was on top]  Aaaah! Brrrggggh!
C & N: [chuckle]
AB: Also, don't look down. Okay? You're not going to like the view very much. What are on?
      Number 5 now? Number 5: light and then slowly open the valve. Take your time. There. Now. That is a big flame. But it's a yellow flame. That means it's pretty but it's ineffective combustion so it's not as hot as it could be. So, reach down on the side of the burner you'll find a little disk. Turn it. It's the carburetor. And just turn it until the flame is as blue as the back end of a F-16. Gentlemen. Wok this way.

  1. Tubes tightly connected
  2. Both valves in off position
  3. Open valve on top of tank
  4. Apply fire to burner with a long lighter and from below
  5. Slowly open valve to increase heat

AB: A stir fry is not so much a recipe as it is a procedure. That means there's an order to things which is ...
N: [tries to interrupt]
AB: ... this is important ... there's an order to things and you've got to stick with that order if you're really going to have a stir fry. Now a stir fry is also a lot like a, um, a chain reaction. It happens very ...
N: [tries to interrupt]
AB: ... just a second ... it happens very, very quickly. And once it starts there isn't any stopping it. It's like a roller coaster. You get in the car, the bar comes down, you pull out of the station. You're committed. That is ...
N: [tries to interrupt]
AB: ... just a second ... that is what stir frying is. You are committed. This means that we must be fully prepared. All the ingredients must be laid out, pre-chopped, pre-sliced, pre-measured, ready to go. Even your serving pieces had better be in place because once this starts ...
N: [tries to interrupt]
AB: ... what!?
N: Um, shouldn't we put something in it? Some oil or something?
AB: Ned, one of the major tenets of stir frying is the wok must heat alone.
C: I think it's starting to glow.
N: Cool.
AB: Indeed. I would say that we're ready to cook a little thing I call Squid Vicious.

[AB cooks while C & N watch]

2 tsp. Sesame Oil

1 tsp. Garlic
1 tsp. Ginger
2 Dried Chilies

1/2 pound Prepped Squid

AB: Don't be afraid, fellows.

AB: Onions. Peppers.
C: Mmmm.
AB: Oyster mushrooms.
C & N: Mmmm.

1/3 cup Diced Onion
1/3 cup Red Bell Pepper
1/4 cup Oyster Mushrooms,
     Cut into Strips

AB: A little stir. Stir fry..
C & N: [laughs with oohs]

AB: A little toss. Girls love that. See, you got a lot of nice color there. Now we go with a little sauce. This will thicken up as it cooks because it's got corn starch in it. Smell that? You're not going to get that from anything but a wok. And now it's dinner time.

1 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp. Cornstarch
1/2 cup Miso Broth

Squid is very low in fat but high in protein.

Nemo Bay

              Giant Squid-Man

C: Mmm. So, Mr. B., can that thing do any other squid tricks?
AB: Of course. You could deep fry calamari in there or you could make squid soup or you can stuff them whole and braise them in there.
N: I thought long cooking made squid tough.

AB: Actually, Ned, it's more like a bell curve. You see, they start out very tender if you cook them fast and hot and then they start to get tough the longer you cook then. But if you stick with it and keep the heat under a simmer, they'll get tender again.

5-6 minutes = Tough
/     \
/         \
/             \
 /                 \
\ ______\____ /

1-3 minutes =        Over 10 =
Tender            Tender Again

C: So are you going to make some now?
AB: No, I think I'll wait for the next show.
N: Well if you're not going to cook anymore, why did you leave the wok on the fire?
AB: Ah, one of my favorite things about stir frying, Ned, clean up. Just replace your wok onto high heat and hit it with some water. Just let that boil for a second, slosh it around a couple of times, and throw out the muck. Clean as a whistle.
C: Hmm.
N: Dude. You wok!
AB: Thank you, Ned, I think.
C: You know, I sure am sorry Patty's not here. She wasn't too keen on eating squid and she probably just would have ruined it for me.
AB: Better off without her.
N: She's immortal now. Gone down to the squid man's undersea palace built from the bones of countless sunken vessels and filled to the gunnels with glimmering treasure.

P: Hi, boys. Any luck?
C: Patty Cake? Oh, woowoooo.
P: This is Rrrrronco. He saved me.
RONCO: She fell from the ...
P: ... the, the, levy.
R: ... and my boat was nearby.
P: What luck. Heh.
N: Did you see him?
P: Who?
N: Him! Giant squid-man.
P: Oh, that's just a silly old legend.
C: How come your shoes are dry then?
P: Food. I'm famished.
C: [glares at Ronco]
R: [to Chuck] I have a case of crabs to deliver. [leaves]
C: Something's fishy.

AB: I thought you said you didn't eat squid.
P: Well, oh, it's so good.
C: Excuse me, Mr. B. I need to talk to Patty.
AB: Oh. Of course. Um, you kids, you kids take all of the time you need.

    We'll recap what we learned today. Let's see. We learned that squid are low fat, they are very high in protein, they're affordable, they're plentiful, they're versatile and they're very quick cooking. All of which means they are like the perfect food for any tailgatable event. We also learned that a 12 to 16 inch steel wok is the Swiss Army knife of the cookware world which means it's also perfect for tailgating. Did we learn anything else? Yeah!

AB: We learned that there's no such thing as a giant squid-man.
N: [scared and pointing behind Alton] Yes there is!
AB: No, Ned. There's not. Now, please. Lose the pathetic hat and get yourself a life. You know, P. T. Barnum wrote that there's a sucker born every ... [turns around to a huge squid tentacle] ... minute.
SQUID MAN: Aarrrgggrrrr!
AB: [looks up at SM] Oh, bother.
SM: [grabs AB with tentacle]
AB: Hey. Hey. What! No! Down! No! Down! Hey! Down! That's it!
SM: Aarrrgggrrrr! [carries AB away]
P: I guess he wasn't looking for a bride after all.
C: I guess giant squid-man is just like us. All he wants is some good eats.
N: Ooh. [faints]

Proof Reading Help from Sue Libretti

*mise en place: French for "put in its place", i.e. everything is in the right place

Taxonomy of cuttlefish and squid from the Animal Diversity Web


*Giant Cuttlefish

¤Giant Squid

**Common Pacific Squid

Domain Eukaryote Eukaryote Eukaryote
Kingdom Animalia Animalia Animalia
Phylum Mollusca Mollusca Mollusca
Class Cephalopoda Cephalopoda Cephalopoda
Order Sepiida Teuthoida Teuthida
Suborder ---- ---- Myopsina
Family Sepiidae Architeuthidae Loliginidae
Genus Sepia Architeuthis Loligo
Species Sepia apama Architeuthis harveyi Loligo opalescens

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010