On the Vineyard, Long-fin Squid (loligo pealei) usually start showing up sometime in April or early May. While their arrival this spring might’ve been a tad early, the real surprise has been their numbers, this may go down as the best year for squidding on Martha’s Vineyard in the past 50 years.
Because of how easy they have been to find, the popular squidding spots are extremely busy most evenings, with anglers of all ages standing elbow to elbow, hoping to fill a bucket or two with fresh calamari.
With all the buzz surrounding this extraordinary spring squid run, we decided it was time for the Hungry Native to get in on the action. The two squidding hot spots in Edgartown are Memorial Wharf and the finger piers at the bottom of Main Street. Both are easily accessible, and have some degree of artificial lighting, which squid are drawn to. While they may not look like it, squid can be voracious feeders, using their keen eyesight to track down their prey.
They are generally caught using a squid jig, a small lure with rings of upturned tines instead of hooks. The basic jigging technique is simple, cast your jig out, let it sink a bit, then gently lift your rod tip up and then bring it back down, causing your jig to rise and fall through the water. Repeat as needed. Squid generally attack the jig on the fall, grabbing it with their tentacles and (hopefully) impaling themselves on the tines.
Once snagged, they don’t put up much of a fight, but it is important to avoid slack in the line, which could give the squid a chance to free itself. When scared or injured, squid will squirt out a jet of ink, hoping to use it as a smokescreen, enabling them to flee. Because of this, when squidding it’s advisable to wear clothing that you don’t care too much about, squid ink stains are almost impossible to remove. Since the hooks are barbless, removal is easy, simply turn the jig upside down and deposit your catch in the bucket, being careful to keep errant fingers away from the squid’s beak.
To clean the squid, start by grasping the body firmly in one hand and grab the head just behind the eyes with the other.
Pull apart slowly, with a slight twisting motion, and with any luck, the digestive system will be removed all at once. At this point, you can remove the ink sac if desired, and save it for use later.
Next, separate the tentacles by cutting them away from the head, again, just behind the eyes.
Inside the ring of tentacles, you will find the hard beak, which is easily removed by squeezing the base of the tentacles and popping it free.
The fins are edible, but we removed them to cook on their own, as they are much thinner than the body.
The mottled skin is very easy to remove, particularly if you’ve already removed the fins, just work a finger underneath and peel it away.
Inside their body, squid have a hard piece of cartilage, known as a cuttlebone. This long thin structure looks and feels like a piece of clear plastic and is removed by finding the tip, separating it from the flesh a bit, and then sliding it out of the body. At this point, the body and tentacles are rinsed and ready to use. The body is often cut into rings, but for this recipe, from Chris Schlesinger & John Willoughby’s “The Thrill of the Grill”, we left the bodies intact.
We coated the tentacles, fins and bodies with a tablespoon of sesame oil, added salt and freshly ground pepper and set them aside in the refrigerator. We prepared a bbq sauce, composed of 6 Tbl hoisin sauce, 6 Tbl ketchup and 2 Tbl each of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. When grilling squid, you want an extremely hot grill, you should only be able to hold your hand about five inches above the grill grate for a second or so. The recipe called for using “one clean, washed brick covered with foil” to keep the squid bodies flat when cooking. Finding and washing a brick seemed like too much work for us, so we just used a clean, washed cast iron pan instead.
We cooked the bodies under the pan for a minute or two per side, until they picked up some good grill marks. Then, we removed the pan, brushed them with the bbq sauce and grilled them for about a minute more, turning them a couple times to caramelize the sauce evenly. The tentacles don’t require a weight, just turn them until the tips are nicely browned.
For the accompanying slaw, we shredded 1 pound of red cabbage and combined it with 1/2 a red pepper, thinly sliced and two scallions cut on the bias. The dressing, which is added right before serving, was made from freshly toasted sesame seeds, a Tbl sesame oil, 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar, a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and salt, sugar and pepper to taste. When the bodies were done, we sliced them into 1/4 inch rings and served them with the tentacles, the dressed slaw and a bit of the hoisin-bbq sauce for dipping.
The squid was surprisingly tender, with a smoky, slightly charred exterior that matched perfectly with the rich and slightly sweet bbq sauce. The slaw was crunchy, with a bright and punchy acidity that balanced out the deeper earthy notes of the sauce. Fresh-caught squid taste worlds better than the frozen calamari rings most restaurants serve, and they’re even better when you catch them yourself.
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