Friday, September 02, 2005

Squid Gutting 101 for Children (and Foreigners)

Author's Preface: Please don't get me wrong. I greatly appreciate and highly value the experience and expertise I acquired through this school activity and I honestly didn't mind it (except for the physical toll taken by eating over ripe raw squid).

This is where the squid lady told the kids to touch the squid's three beating hearts. Unlike pigs and rabbits, squid don't object dramatically to being terminated. They just wriggle their inards a little after you slit them open. (This was one of only three squid that were brought to the school alive . . . the rest of us were given less than fresh specimens to practice on).

This tub of squid sat in the teachers' room for most of the morning and I think that partly explains the bad breath, reeking flatulence and sickly stomachs we've been suffering from ever since eating them raw.

The teachers cheated and ate a few of the squid at lunch time, before the official squid butchering began. They left this bowl of leftover parts sitting in the teachers' room kitchenette for me to look at as I tried to re-hydrate myself after a hard morning of activities with a class full of cry babies. None of these bad things ever happen at Hebiura Elementary.

This is a bowl of squid liver leftover from the teachers’ lunch. Some people like to eat it “as is” when fresh, but usually it is used in a dish called shiokara (nothing special—just squid boiled in their own liver). Personally, I’ve never seen the point. There are a million ways to prepare squid so that it actually tastes good, so why . . . .

As part of the students’ annual squid training, each kid (at Shimofuro Elementary School that apparently includes the foreign English teacher) received two dead squid. The first one was hollowed out to make ika-meshi (squid boiled with rice stuffing). The second was slit open and gutted in order to make ika-sashi (raw squid thinly sliced). Yuko had never had the opportunity to gut squid before, so I obtained permission from the vice principle to invite her and she was even given a dead squid of her own. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take pictures of either of us demonstrating our newly acquired skill since my hands were completely caked with squid slime. In fact, for the rest of the day I felt like I had a thin film of squid stink coating me from head to toe, and no amount of hand washing seemed to free me from it. As the principle said when he addressed the students in the opening ceremony (picture the dopey priest in Princess Bride saying: “Maaaawidge, dhat bwessed insituuuuuution . . . “): “In July you got to do squid racing, ne. Today we are butchering squid, ne. Children in most schools will never be able to do these things . . . .” He’s probably right.

Post Script: I was curious as to what would be done with the tubs and tubs of squid parts not used by the students, but when I returned to the teachers room I saw the cleaning lady busily organizing them into a bowl of refuse, a bowl of legs, a bowl of eyeballs and testicles (for some reason those two are cooked together), and a bowl of liver.

Post Post Script: Right after lunchtime is a bad time to butcher and eat squid that is not fresh. Hopefully we will live and not die, though.

Post Post Post Script:
If you ever get your own squid and decide to chop it up and eat it raw, make sure that after peeling and rinsing the shell you also check the inner side for parasites. The horror! The horror!