Salt And Pepper Squid Is A Comforting Cantonese Dish

Visitors to Hong Kong are likely to wax poetic about the range of regional Chinese cooking on offer. Cantonese restaurants offer traditional dim sum, bite-sized pieces of food served in wooden steamer baskets. Then there's the golden perfection of Peking-style roast duck, sliced thin and served up in pancakes slathered with hoisin sauce. 

And while these dishes are memorable, to be sure, only those in the know could also happily spend a meal at a cheap but cheerful diner consuming a range of local favorites that might include spring rolls, steamed mussels with garlic, steamed fish, seasonal vegetables with garlic, as well as a platter of salt-and-pepper squid, per Yau Ley Seafood.

While deep-fried squid, or calamari, is nearly universally enjoyed as a bar snack or finger food in the United States (per Taste), salt-and-pepper squid is more than that in Cantonese cooking. On its home turf, the dish is universally enjoyed as a main course and as part of a huge feast, and it's usually dressed with a colorful selection of spices and aromatics. When it's served with fluffy white rice, it becomes so much more than just the usual breaded calamari.

Cantonese salt-and-pepper squid is a colorful dish

Unlike some of its American cousins, Cantonese salt-and-pepper squid doesn't have a thick coating of batter. (Those who might prefer their calamari camouflaged in breading could be headed for disappointment.) Salt-and-pepper squid is also fried in a wok instead of in a deep fryer, as it's cooked twice.

Red House Spice explains that to make salt-and-pepper squid, you'll need to cut the squid into bite-sized pieces and add salt and pepper seasoning. It's usually made with a blend of salt and Sichuan pepper, although this mix can be amped up by adding other spices, such as star anise and five-spice powder. You'll also need a blend of cornstarch and all-purpose flour to coat the pieces of squid before it takes its turn in oil. Lastly, you'll want to prep a mix of garlic, ginger, and fresh chili, as well as fried scallions to add an extra flavor dimension to the squid.

To assemble, deep-fry the battered squid until it's golden, remove, and drain. Then, use the oil in the wok to fry the aromatics: garlic, fresh chilis, and ginger if desired. When they've softened, return the squid and add scallions, stir-fry quickly, and serve warm with rice. For an added pop of flavor, The Woks of Life recommends adding white pepper powder immediately after the squid is first fried.