Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eating Jibia: Chilean Humbolt Squid

I like fish.  I like to eat them, of course, but I also like catch them, cook them, look at them, and buy them, so fish markets are among my favorite places. And Chilean fish markets are especially interesting since artisanal fishermen bring in a lot of species that never show up in the supermarket.  In the photo below are (l to r) reineta, congrio, merluza, pejegallo (back), blanquillo (front), cabrilla, and jurel.  Hanging in the back are more congrio.[1] In front are unidentifiable filets (at least by me) and, at the bottom right are brilliantly white pieces of jibia (Humbodt squid, Dosidecus gigus).

I don’t know when I first ate squid; probably the first time I saw it on a menu.  I’ve always been one of those people whose reaction to an unfamiliar menu item is to order it, and creepy-crawly things are no exception.  Naturally when jibia showed up in the fish case of my local supermarket a couple of years ago, I bought a piece.  It was only 500-600 pesos a kg. ($.50/lb.- it's double that now) with no waste—about a quarter the price of small whole squid, so it occurred to me that it might be a little odd in some way. 

“How do you cook it?”

“Boil it for 20 minutes, then cut it up and use it in chowder (paila marina), or soup, or anything.”

When I came home I looked it up on the internet and eventually discovered that its English name was Humboldt squid.  Wikipedia said: 
Humboldt Squid are carnivorous marine invertebrates that move in shoals of up to 1200 individuals. They swim at speeds of up to 24 kilometers per hour (15 mph/13 kn) propelled by water ejected through a hyponome (siphon) and by two diamond shaped fins. Their tentacles bear suckers lined with sharp teeth with which they grasp prey and drag it towards a large, sharp beak.  They are most commonly found at depths of 200–700 meters (660–2,300 ft), from Tierra del Fuego to California. Recent findings suggest the range of this species is spreading north into the waters of  Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. They are known to be very aggressive and attack divers that venture too close.

Humboldt squid that washed ashore in Pebble Beach, California.
 Photo: The Carmel Pine Cone, October 10, 2003

Wikipedia didn’t mention whether they were edible. A squid sport fishing site’s forum, Squidfish, was full of questions about how to cook it.
I just came back loaded down with squid. Great fishing out of Bodega Bay.  Now, a question for the forum - I had my first steak tonight - egg wash and seasoned flour. Sautéed it in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Lemon juice on top just before serving. It was horrible. Way too salty. I soaked the tubes in fresh water overnight as I was told to do. Both my wife and I, plus the cats, couldn't eat the steaks.
The issue of how to cook Humboldt squid arose because sometime around 2002 they started appearing and being caught in large numbers by sport fishermen off the California coast, north of their previous range, and by 2004 they were in Alaskan wasters. 

A little squidology

Squid are mollusks, like clams, oysters, snails and their closer relatives, octopi and cuttlefish. There are around 300 species, most of which are small, under 24 inches, but several species are larger, including the Colossal Squid that can grow up to 46 feet long and weigh over 1000 lbs.  They are carnivores, feeding on fish, crabs and other mollusks, and are smart (Humblodt squid are reported to hunt cooperatively) with relatively large brains for their body size.   Squid are popular in the cuisines throughout Asia and the Mediterranean, and under their Italian name, “calamari,” have become popular in the English speaking world as well.

As explained below, Humboldt squid, also known as “jumbo flying squid,” ”jibia [2](Chile & Peru), “pota” (Spain), and “Diablo rojo” (red devil) by Mexican fishermen, traditionally ranged from the coast of southern Chile to Mexico, and west to Hawaii.  The dramatic increase in abundance, both within and outside of its normal range is not unprecedented.  Their fast growth, early maturity, short life (1 to 2 years) and migratory ability lead to dramatic fluctuations in population. Off the Chilean coast they were highly abundant between 1835 and 1842[3], when they were first collected and identified by the scientific world.

[Click on picture for clearer view]
Other periods of abundance seem to have been in 1960 to 1972, and again in 1992-1994 but the present peak, with a Chilean catch of 248,000 metric tons in 2005, seems to be the highest on record.[4]

One of the interesting characteristics of Humboldt and other large squid species is that they maintain neutral buoyancy in a way different from the gas-filled swim bladder used by fish:  an ammonium chloride solution, which is lighter than sea water, circulates through their bodies. Unfortunately, this gives the flesh a salty, sour, bitter “horrible” taste, as the California fisherman discovered.

But the Chileans have discovered a remedy.  In commercial processing for frozen squid steaks the filleted, mechanically tenderized flesh “is left in soaking in a tub that contains a solution of lactic acid and citric acid to 1 % p/p for 3 hours approximately and with a sufficient quantity of ice to keep the temperature low,” washed again and then “is left again in the second soaking, but this time in a solution that contains a brine to 6 % in a time of 3 hours.”[5]   

Back to the kitchen

Fortunately for the home cook without a chemistry degree, there is another method.  The filet of jibia, which is simply a section of the body with the skin removed, is covered on each side by a thin membrane, visible in the lower part of the photo below.

Remove the membrane and simmer the filet in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain.  This eliminates 90% of so of the odd taste; the rest can be eliminated (or at least hidden) by selecting a recipe that provides its own strong flavors.

My current favorite Humboldt squid recipe is in Mexican style ceviche:

The result: Ceviche de jibia, Humboldt squid.

Other good choices (simmered in salt water first) are:  battered and fried as an appetizer; with other seafood in marinara sauce (or with olive oil, white wine, garlic, etc.) over pasta; in paella; bouillabaisse; etc. 

And here’s a Chilean recipe:

2 lbs.  jibia 
2 marraquetas (Chilean breads, or use 3-4 slices of home style white bread)
1 onion
oil or lard
merquén (ground chili) and cumin to taste
grated cheese

Simmer the jibia for 20 minutes with salt and a bay leaf, then grind or mince and reserve.  Soak the bread in milk, squeeze out excess, and reserve.  Sauté the onion with the merquén and cumin, add the jibia, the bread and a glass of milk and simmer 10 minutes.  Put the mixtures in individual oven proof dishes (ideally pialas de greda) or a casserole, cover abundantly with cheese and brown in a hot oven, and serve with a sauvignon blanc, preferably from the central valley.

And how is it nutritionally?  Good, similar to fish like cod: low in fat and calories, with moderate amounts of protein, much like ordinary squid.  One of the processors of frozen jibia,, provides the following data for their product:  moisture, 81.1%, fat, 1.1%; protein, 16.0%, ash, 1.7% and calories 101 per 100 g.

Will you like it?  I think so.  I’ve served the ceviche to guests at buffets several times; they always empty the bowl.  

[1] Cortés Matamala, Nelson.   Catalogo ilustrado de las principales especies de interés comercial para la zona centro sur.  Peces De ChileOn line at, and  Especies  encontradas en el norte de Chile, Stella Maris. On line at
[2] In Spain Jibia refers to a cuttlefish and many of the Spanish language jibia recipes on the internet are for this mollusk, and not for D. gigas.
[3] Chong, Javier, et al. 2005. Fishery biology parameters of jumbo squid, Dosidicus gigas
(Orbigny, 1835) (Cephalopoda: ommastrephidae), in central Chile coast (29ºs-40ºs) during 1993-1994. Gayana (Concepción) 69(2): 319-328, On line at
[4] Zúñiga1,MJ,  LA Cubillos1 & C Ibáñez. 2008.   A regular pattern of periodicity in the monthly catch of jumbo squid (Dosidicus gigas) along the Chilean coast (2002–2005). Ciencias Marinas (2008), 34(1): 91–99.  On line at
[5] Technical process of giant squid steak. On line at

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Seaweed: Cochayuyo and Luche

There are many reasons why I recommend sea vegetables as part of my healing programs -- weight loss, cellulite control, detoxification, beautiful hair and skin, and more. Sea vegetables can transform your health! I believe that when we eat sea vegetables, and when we take seaweed baths, we are tapping into the ancestral and restorative source of all life -- the ocean. Include sea vegetables into your diet every day and you’ll see a difference. I do! Sea plants -- gifts from the sea!  Dr. Linda Page, Healthy
Just because they are darlings of the food-quack set (note that Dr. Linda holds degrees in Naturopathy and Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health![1]) there is no reason to reject seaweeds out of hand.  Chileans have been eating them for 14,000 years (see Eating Paleo-Chilean:  Food at Monte Verde); and they have been consumed since prehistoric times in China, Japan and Korea, and along the NW coast of Europe in Norway, Ireland, France, as well as in Iceland, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.[2]

Here in Chile two types are common, cochayuyo, and luchi (in bags).

Cochayuyo, bull kelp (Durvillaea antarctica), is the dominant seaweed species in southern Chile and New Zealand.  It appears in the Monte Verde archeological site in southern Chile (along with 8 other seaweed species) dating to approximately 14,000 years ago.[3]  The Mapuche, the indigenous people of south central Chile, were making extensive use of it when the Spanish arrived, calling it collofe; cochayuyo is from the Quechua, meaning “seaweed.”

The Spanish adopted it early.  Eugenio Pereira Salas, in his classic Notes for the History of Chilean Cuisine, quotes Spanish conquistador Cortéz Ojea:  On April 15, 1558, the Indians
…began to bring some wild herbs that grow on the sea shores and are like turnips or snakes, which we stewed in this manner:  We roasted the hard stems, like fat radishes, in the ashes to make them more tender and then we put them on to boil in small pieces like fingers, five or six hours; we added flour and mashed them well, then returned them to the pots and cooked them an hour with limpets and shellfish. The leaves we mixed with flour and we made bread, that is tortillas; they had 2/3 flour and one third herb, and some had as much herb as flour.[4]

Fortunately, Cortéz Ojea’s recipe did not become a part of Chilean Creole cuisine, but Cochayuyo did, in dozens of Creole dishes such as [click for English recipes]: charquican de cochayuyo (cachayuyo hash), pastel de cochayuyo (cahayuyo pie),empanadas de cochayuyo, cazuela de corero con cachayuyo (lamb pot-au-feu with cochayuyo), etc. 

The basic preparation methods involve soaking over night and/or boiling for 20 minutes or so in water with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice, then scraping the fronds (which may have a soft coating), cutting into bite sized pieces and sautéing or simmering with other ingredients: beans, potatoes and onions, etc.  Salads are even simpler:  cut prepared cochayuyo into bite sized pieces, add minced onion and cilantro (and other vegetables to taste) and dress with oil and lemon juice.

Nutritionally cochayuyo is quite remarkable; even if you don’t share Dr. Page’s claim that eating it is “tapping into the ancestral and restorative source of all life.” It is practically fat free, low in calories and high in protein (about ¼ the calories and the same amount of protein as 100 gm. wheat), and has over 100% of the US Recommended Daily Allowances for fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine, and (unfortunately) sodium.

 Sources:  Values, and % USRDA

How does it taste?  Bland, salty, perhaps a little smoky; not at all strong or pungent. The texture is a bit elastic, chewy. Dozens of Spanish-language websites have copied each other saying it has an “intense flavor of the sea,” but frankly, it doesn’t have an intense flavor of anything; perhaps that’s why it combines with so many foods. 

Why haven’t you eaten it? Well, except in the occasional mariscada (dish of mixed shellfish) it is unlikely to be served in Chilean restaurants or middle class homes.  Like many other traditional Chilean foods (chilies, garlic, lamb) it is associated with poor, rural, and even worse, indigenous Chileans.  In her PhD dissertation, Identities, Racial Mixing and Social Differences in Osorno, Chile: Readings from the Anthropology of Food, Chilean anthropologist Sonia Monecino Aguirre argues that:

This is what has occurred with luche and cochayuyo among the middle and upper classes; they are an adult feminine taste rejected by children and youths, as well as adult men.  We have encountered cases where women “clandestinely” with their employees, or even alone, prepare dishes of cochayuyo that only they eat, preparing another dish for the rest.  …..Cochayuyo is an important social marker associated with poverty, and in the past, as a vicarious substitute for meat, thus it has negative symbolism among the social scale of foods.[5] 

More recipes?  Here’s a non-traditional one I found in a vegetarian blog, Cousiñas de Ro. from Barcelona.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds interesting.  Let me know what you think.

Cochayuyo Paté with Reduction of Balsamic Vinegar

40 gm. Cochayuyo, dry weight
60 gm. Walnuts
2 generous tablespoons olive oil
A squeeze of lemon juice
2 heaping tablespoons of brewer’s yeast [if you have it]
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons onion
2 tablespoons parsley
A pinch of cayenne

Soak the cochayuyo over night.  Drain and blend with the other ingredients.  Add water if too dry.  Top with additional balsamic vinegar reduction.


Luche (lower right and center) with dried shellfish, Angelmó, Puerto Montt

Luche, sea lettuce, is the other popular Chilean alga.  It is often a mix of two similar species, Porphyra columbina and Ulva rigida, harvested together along rocky Chilean shores.   It is usually sold dried, pressed into “breads” as in the photo above, or sold loose, as below.

 20 gm. luche

Other species of Porphyra are harvested in Japan where it is known as nori – and used to wrap sushi – and in Ireland and Wales, where it is called laver, and made into laver bread, a traditional Welsh delicacy.

Luche is prepared by soaking in water (3-4 hours if cold, 20-30 minutes if hot), or by grinding into flakes in a food processor of blender.  Like cochayuyo, it is rich in fiber, minerals (including salt), and protein, as well as Vitamin C.[6]

 Luche is eaten mainly in the Chilean south, where it is popular among rural people and fishing families, Mapuche and mestizo.  It is made into filling for empanadas, used in charquican, sautéed with potatoes and onions, prepared as a budin (with bread, milk, eggs and cheese), and added to salads, soups and stews; and in a classic southern dish, lamb cazuela with luche.  It can also be added to any soup, risotto, sauce or sauté, and the dry flakes can be sprinkled over rice, pasta, or other foods as an herbal salt substitute.

Soaked (below) and flaked luche 

It is also common on Chilean Chinese restaurant menus, as a stir-fry “con algas.”  The photo to the right is “Five-flavors pork con algas” from one of Santiago’s best known (and most oddly named) Chinese Restaurants, El Placio Danubio Azul.


In the prize winning recipe below Chilean Chef Miriam Andrea Yunge Rojas has adapted the “genuinely Chiloe dish …that has been transmitted verbally and visually across the generations.”  

(Pot-au-fue of Chiloe Lamb and Luche)

8 small lamb chops [or better, shoulder with bones-JS]
4 native Chiloe potatoes
50 gm. dry luche
1 tablespoon garlic paste with oregano [or garlic + oregano]
Salt, pepper, merkén, and Chilean pepper[7] to taste
1 generous tablespoon lard
Fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, oregano, etc.)
1 shallot or ¼ onion

Soak the luche in water for at least 4 hours in cold water to cover, then wash well eliminating any sand. Sear the chops in the lard in a hot skillet, add the shallot or onion, garlic paste, and seasonings and sauté until browned.  Add 1 ½ quarts of water or broth and simmer until the meat is tender.  Add the luche and simmer another 30 minutes, then add the potatoes for 10 minutes, or until done. Check seasoning and serve in bowls, sprinkled with fresh herbs.

Another Nuevo Chileno dish, this one by Chef Luis Cruzat of the Restaurant Latin Grill, combines luche with quinoa, merkén, and Patagonian lamb.

(Lamb Chops al Merkén with Quinoa and Luche)

4 Lamb Chops
1 cup Quinoa
30 gm luche soaked and boiled 20 mintes
1 teaspoon merkén
1 tomato
reduction--meat stock & wine (Glace viande)
salt & pepper

Wash well and cook the quinoa in 2 cups salted water, as you would cook rice. While it is cooking, coarsely chop the luche and cut the tomato in cubes. Season with salt, pepper, merkén and cilantro.

Season the chops with salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic, and sear in a skillet with a little olive oil. Remove to a hot over and and roast for 5 to 10 minutes.
Drizzle the plate with the reduced stock, and serve the chops with the quinoa.


Or, for something simple Papas con Luche, Potatoes with Luche:  Soak a good handful of luche in water for 2 or 3 hours (or in hot water for 20 minutes) wash and drain thoroughly.  Sauté in oil or lard (or bacon grease!) with a medium onion, garlic, and a coarsely grated carrot.  Season with oregano, cumin, chili, and serve over boiled potatoes.  The taste is mild and a little smoky.

[1] Clayton College of Natural Health is the subject of “Clayton College of Natural Health: Be Wary of the School and Its Graduates” by Stephen Barrett, M.D. on line at
[2] Edible seaweed, Wikipedia, The free encyclopedia, on line at
[3] Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine, and the Peopling of South America. Tom D. Dillehay, et al. Science 320, 784. May 9, 2008
[4] Pereira Salas, Eugenio.  1977. Apuntes para la historia de la cocina chilena.  Santiago : Universitaria.  p. 23 on line at
[5] Montecino Aguirre, Sonia. 2006. Identidades, mestizajes y diferencias sociales en
Osorno, Chile. Lecturas desde la Antropología de la Alimentación”. Tesis Doctoral,
Publicación Electrónica de la Universidad de Leiden, Holanda.  p. 65 (notes)
[6] Fajardo MA, Alvarez F, Pucci OH, Martín de Portela ML. 1998.  Contents of various nutrients, minerals and seasonal fluctuations in Porphyra columbina, an edible marine algae from the Argentine Patagonian coast. Archivos Latinoameridcanos de Nutricion Nutr.  Sep;48(3):260-4.  On line at and El Alga Nory. Alimentafion Sana.  on line at
[7] Seeds of canelo, Drimys winteri