What Is Squid Stir-Fry?

C. Mitchell

Squid stir-fry is a type of seafood dish prepared by quickly frying pieces of squid over high heat. Most stir-fried dishes are made in a wok, which is a large, Asian-style skillet characterized by high, slanted walls. Squid stir-fry is a popular dish in many Asian countries, but is enjoyed around the world in different variations.

Squid belong to the cephalopod family.
Squid belong to the cephalopod family.

A great many dishes can qualify as squid stir-fry; they may have no resemblance to each other outside of the presence of squid and, of course, the cooking style. Stir-frying food is a traditional Chinese cooking technique. Many other Asian countries, particularly Japan, Korea, and Thailand, have also adopted the stir-fry method. The popularity of stir-fry meals has spread from there to Asian-style cooks all over the world.

Peanut oil has a high smoking point and mild taste ideal for a squid stir-fry.
Peanut oil has a high smoking point and mild taste ideal for a squid stir-fry.

Squid are sea life belonging to the cephalopod family. They often resemble the related octopus on first appearance, as they, too, have eight legs. A squid’s legs are matched in pairs, however, and are complemented by two long tentacles and an almost rectangular body. More than 300 species of squid are believed to exist in the world’s oceans, and coastal communities nearly everywhere prepare it as a food source.

Almost all parts of the squid are edible. The meat cooks best in stir-fry meals when it is cut up rather small, often into strips or rings. Squid legs are hollow. Sliced widthwise, they yield rings, while lengthwise cuts lead to thin, narrow strips. The main body is usually much fleshier, and is characterized by a denser, chewier meat. All or only parts of the squid can be used in stir-fry, according to personal taste.

Cooks making squid stir-fry must prepare the wok in advance. This usually involves adding oil and spices, the turning up the heat. Once the wok is smoking hot, cooks toss in the raw squid, frying it quickly while stirring rapidly. The result is a flash-fried seafood that is ready within minutes.

There are a great many ways of preparing stir-fried squid, both inside and outside of the wok. Many traditional Asian recipes make use of all parts of the squid, including the ink sac present in most species. Ink is best used when it is fresh. Most of the time, squid sold commercially has already had its ink removed, as it tends to spoil quickly and can ruin squid during transportation.

Spices and additional ingredients can go a long way in terms of personalizing a quid stir-fry dish. It is common to add vegetables to the wok, and sometimes even other meats. Sauces and glazes can also help bring out certain flavors. There are very few defined rules for cooking stir-fry, and most have far more to do with cooking technique than ingredient list.

Squid stir-fry presentation is also a place for innovation. Traditionally, the dish is served over rice or noodles. Depending on how hearty it is, it can also be served on its own, or accompanied with a vegetable salad or compote.

Nearly all parts of a squid are edible.
Nearly all parts of a squid are edible.

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