I swear, they did not look so wee bb before I cooked them. Without exaggeration, these little squids started each with five-inch long bodies, and fifteen minutes later, when I lifted the lid…poof be gone they were! They became these thumb-sized miniature creatures that lost their original limpness and instead gained a plump, taut physique that’s pull-apart tender. Their pale, slender legs shrunk and became curly crunchy anemones whose suckers grabbed thirstily onto the deeply umami sauce.
How many bowls of rice was I able to annihilate with that sauce? (I who normally skip the rice during dinnertime)
3. Traditionally, in Taiwanese the dish would be described as shia jio, which literally means “down with the beer”.
Sanpei or “three cups” refers to the 1:1:1 ratio of black sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine. Another trio that’s not to be missed is ginger, garlic, and Thai basil – all of which are used in abundance. The ginger, thinly sliced, becomes fried to a crisp that can then be eaten whole. The garlic cloves are left whole, only pounded so that they soften and become reminiscent of sweet, buttery roasted garlic. Finally, the generous handfuls of peppery Thai basil are stirred in at the last minute to wilt. At the table, as the lid of the sand pot is lifted, the deeply layered aromas rise to stimulate the jowls.
Ingredients for Sanpei baby calamari:
400g whole baby calamari (12~15 cm body length), rinsed
3 tbsp rice wine
1/4 cup black sesame oil
12 slices ginger root
12 cloves garlic, bruised
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup loose dark brown sugar
1/4 cup rice wine
40g fresh Thai basil
Marinate the calamari in 3 tbsp of the rice wine for 10 minutes.
Add the sesame oil to a very hot wok and quickly swirl it around. Add the ginger and fry until the edges curl up and crispen. Add the garlic and fry until fragrant, but not burnt. Drain and add the calamari, stir, then pour the soy sauce along the side of the wok so it caramelizes on its way down. Add the brown sugar and rice wine, cover. When the mixture comes to a boil, transfer it to a Chinese sand pot and simmer for a further 20~25 minutes, covered.
Uncover, and cook on the highest heat possible for an additional 5 minutes, stirring often, or until the sauce reduces and thickens to a glaze. Stir in the basil until wilted.
Serve with plenty of steamed brown jasmine rice, I mean it!
If you feel squirmish with the baby squid, I often use instead boneless skin-on chicken thighs, just add them skin-side down after the garlic and let the skin crisp up before adding the soy sauce.
I genuinely hope you give it a try, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!