First of all, happy holidays and all the best for the New Year: I hope you all have big catches and safe journeys at sea for 2015! I’ve been busy recently but not too busy, so I could make the seasonal Japanese food shiokara, which is a kind of Japanese charcuterie. Squid is sun-dried and mixed with their salted, cured livers that are partly fermented. It is one of those dishes that inspires horror and nightmares in many a young naive Westerner visiting Japan, but this is largely because real shiokara is a rarity and most of the stuff you get in bars supermarkets is a poor substitute made by stirring the worst quality squid with flavourings, food colouring, sugar and citrates to give it a “fermented taste”. The real dish starts off with extracting the livers from surume (flying squid) squid and setting them to salt-cure. Winter is the season for this as this is when the livers are at their biggest.
The flesh of the squids, along with their legs, are dried outside – in winter in Tokyo the air is so cold and dry, the squid does not need salting or curing beforehand: they are done in about 8 hours. I put mine out with my laundy in the morning and they are ready in the afternoon just before sun-down.
I learned how to make shiokara when I was living with a Japanese family in 1996 and the actual fermentation process is a secret I promised not to reveal, but the end result should look like this:
All that remains is to extract the fermented liver-paste from the liver sac (which is not used and discarded) and mix this with the sun-dried squid, which is finely chopped into strands. The whole is mixed together with a touch of sake (or mirin if you like a sweeter taste) and left to meld overnight – longer won’t do any harm. When serving, the shiokara is best with a couple of shreds of yuzu citrus peel on top (I didn’t happen to have yuzu in my fridge when the shiokara was ready).