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Squid Jigging in Seattle


Sauteed Calamari with Black Bean Sauce

Squidding Elliot Bay

Squid jigging on the Elliot Bay Pier

Seattle has the potential to spoil a fisherman rotten, and I’m not even talking about how good the fishing is around here. I mean that fishing here can be just so damned convenient. There are so many angling opportunities available a literal stone’s throw from the shores of this city.

Salmon run just outside the marina, ling cod can be caught off the breakwater rocks, spot prawn traps get dropped in the shadows of the downtown skyscrapers, Dungeness crab taken just yards off the beach, smallmouth bass from the shores of Lake Washington, rainbow trout in Greenlake ….
It’s not many places that allow you to be both an avid angler and a lethargic couch potato at once.

Of course, most of these opportunities span from Spring through Fall. What about during the winter? Do I really need to drive more than four miles to catch fresh seafood in January? That sounds a lot like effort.
But wait! To what do my wondering eyes appear? It’s guys with fishing poles lining up on the piers.
You see, at this time of year, when the sun goes down, the squid fishermen come out.

Squid are night feeders, and are attracted to lights, like the lights that are on city piers.

squid hookedI tried looking up exactly why squid are drawn to light. It seems there is a bit of debate on that, although the most popular theory is that they are not so much fans of the light itself, but they do like to eat critters that swarm toward lights, like moths of the sea. This is supported by the way squid act around the lights, hovering around the periphery of the illumination, and darting in to grab anything that looks tasty to them.

Many of the guys on the piers, don’t rely in the dock lights alone. They roll out to the waterfront with flood lights wired to car batteries mounted on carts. On any given evening there will be a dozen or so additional work lights, clipped the pier railings, shining down at the water. I have yet to invest in the car battery rig myself, however squid jigging is done straight out and down in front of you, allowing fishermen to line up side by side without tangling lines. For that reason, most of the guys I’ve encountered are pretty cool about letting your fish near them and their lights.
squid jig

Squid jigs are unusual little lures: vertical, cylindrical jigs with a ring of barbless, up-turned wires that serve as hooks. They’re all glow lures too, so you give them an occasional charge from a flashlight, drop them down about mid depth in the water column, and start jigging. No bait, no scent, just glow and movement calls the squid in.

I’ve seen a range of jigging techniques out there, from quick little twitches to long swings of the rod tip. The main rule of thumb seems to be, quick upward movements, and slow on the way back down. What you are looking for is that feeling of extra weight on your line of the squid hanging onto your jig. The squid around here are pretty small for the most part, and squid as a rule aren’t powerful fighters. This isn’t rod bending, reel screaming, type of fishing. Don’t expect to see Seattle squid jigging on any of those Extreme Fishing shows.
It’s a bulk catch game for these little buggers. In fact the state of Washington doesn’t use a numbered limit for squid. They count it by liquid volume and/or weight; 5 quarts or 10 lbs is the daily limit here.
One of these days I need to travel down the coast and try for some of those monster humbolt squid. But that’s a different post.

Just like any other seafood you’ve only had from restaurants or fish markets, freshly caught squid is a revelation in taste. The unique, slightly briny taste that makes it calamari, is more prominent, and that fish market seafood flavor isn’t there. It’s well worth bundling up for a cold winter evening on the waterfront. Although if the thought of braving the winter cold after dark is dissuading you, might I suggest trying the West Seattle fishing pier. Not only do you have the view below to enjoy while you’re squidding,
…but not 50 feet away from your left elbow is the Marination restaurant, with great food and a full bar. Squid a little, warm up with a cocktail, squid some more, take another cocktail break…

Damn, I could use a belt or two of squidding right now.
But first it’s time to clean some squid for dinner.


Cleaning squid is really pretty simple. Start off by cutting off the tentacles just in front of the head.


Depending on how close you cut them, the beak may or may not still be with tentacles. Give a squeeze to the base of the tentacles, and if the little globe containing the beak is still in there, it’ll pop right out.


The head can be pulled right off and discarded. Although if you are planning to do any flounder fishing, like for those little sand dabs we use as bait for ling cod, squid bits make great bait.
The guts inside the tube consists of a bunch of pale goo, and bit of cartilage that looks like nothing so much as a strip of clear plastic. If you want to keep the tube intact, or cut rings from it, you’ll need to reach a finger inside the tube and pull out the goo and the “plastic”. After that, you just need to scrape off the thin skin (its a membrane really) that’s on the outside of the tube. It comes off pretty easily. Those two little fins near the tip of the tube will come off with the skin. That’s fine, those fins are tough anyway.

As I’m not married to cutting my squid into rings, more often than not I choose split the tubes open.

That makes it very easy to scrape the guts out of the inside of the flat piece of meat that used to be a tube.

Then flip it over and scrape off the outer skin.

Cut into strips, those pieces of tube fry up and eat very nicely.

I could simply give you a quick fried calamari recipe now, but I’m feeling a bit too uppity right now for that. I am going to give you another classic preparation though: squid sautéed with Chinese black bean sauce.

Chinese fermented black beans aren’t what we normally think of when we refer to black beans, such as the type used for black bean soup. They are actually soy beans, and the fermentation process turns them black. For this recipe I used that ones that come in a pouch, but there are canned varieties as well. They have an almost musty odor to them. I know that may give you pause, but trust me on this. It’s going to be delicious.

This sauce isn’t going to be poured over your dish, nor are the other ingredients to be simmered in it. You’re only going to add a couple tablespoons or so into what is essentially a stir fry. It’s used more as a seasoning agent, than a sauce really. My recipe for this is a bit different than most others you’ll find, primarily because I include miso and cilantro in mine. Those are both optional, but I think they add a richer flavor to the sauce.

First step is to make the bean sauce. This can be done well ahead. In fact, I think it’s better when it’s rested in the fridge for a day or two. Then when you do get some squid, you just clean them, cut your veggies and you’re ready to sauté up dinner.

Chinese Black Bean Sauce

  • ½ cup fermented Chinese black beans
  • 2 Tbs peanut or canola oil
  • ¼ cup diced onion
  • 4-5 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 ½ Tbs grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp Sriracha or other hot sauce
  • 1 ¼ cup chicken broth
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp white miso
  • 2 Tbs chopped cilantro

Soak the beans in a bowl of warm tap water for 20 minutes.

Drain the beans, rinse thoroughly, and drain again. Place the beans on a cutting board and “rough chop” them a little.

Heat the oil in a sauté or sauce pan over medium heat. Sauté the onions until they begin to soften and become translucent.

Add in the garlic, ginger and beans, and sauté for 2 more minutes, then add the broth, miso, salt, and Sriracha. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for five minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Puree half the sauce in a blender or food processor, or if you have an immersion blender (and if you don’t, I suggest you consider getting one) then you can give the sauce a couple quick pulses with that. The idea is to have the sauce partially pureed, but with some chunks of beans remaining.

Cover and refrigerate until needed. You’re only going to use a little for the following dish, but keep the rest. Use it to season sautés of chicken, or salmon. Try some in a beef & broccoli stir fry. It’s wonderful.

Sautéed Squid with Black Bean Sauce

Once the sauce in done, the remainder of the recipe is loosey-goosey as far as amounts.

You want to use 8 to 12 ounces of squid. Clean the squid in the manner I described above, using the “flatten out the tubes” method. Using a small, sharp knife, score a criss cross pattern in the tube meat. Don’t cut all the through the filets, just score lines in them. This will help the squid pieces to hold onto the sauce, plus it looks kind of cool once it cooks. Then cut them into pieces about 2-3 inches wide.

The vegetables you use for this is up to you. I used onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, celery and snow peas. Other good choices are broccoli, bok choy, and zucchini. Cut your veggies into thin slices/pieces. Large chunks of vegetables do not play well with the delicate texture of sautéed calamari. You should have about 4 cups of vegetables total.

This is typically served over rice. Unless you are doing the low carb thing, cook up some rice for this.

Alright, let’s put it all together.

Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or canola oil in a large sauté pan or wok, over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add in the vegetables and sauté for one minute, stirring or tossing frequently. Add in 2 heaping tablespoons of the black bean sauce, and continue to stir & saute until the vegetables are cooked.

You’ll notice the snow peas aren’t in the pan yet. Quick cooking vegetables like that should be added later in the saute.Empty the pan onto a side plate, or directly onto your service plates. (that means the plates you will be eating off of)

Put the pan back on the heat.
Add another tablespoon of oil. When it is hot add in the squid and another heaping tablespoon of black bean sauce. Keep the squid moving as you saute it. It will cook very quickly, in a minute or less. Those slices of tube meat will curl up as they cook, again … that looks cool.
Take it out of the pan as soon as it is done. Squid overcooks very quickly.

When plating it all up, lay down a bed of rice, and heap on some veggies, and spoon the squid on top of it all. If you want to garnish, I like using sliced scallions and sprigs of cilantro.


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