March through May
$20 to $60 per pound; prices can reach $160 per pound in Japan.
True World Foods
Remove eyes, soft bone, and beak.
Keep raw firefly squid in the freezer, and serve sashimi-style or marinated. For steaming, use a high-temperature steamer to quickly cook squid to an internal temperature of 60°C. Do not shock in ice water.
Unless you operate a high-end sushi bar, it’s possible you’ve never heard of the rare specimen of firefly squid. Named for the glowing blue show these squid perform during their spawning season, (thanks to light-producing tentacles used to lure in feed), firefly squid are a silky and sustainable delicacy primarily served in Japan.
Also known as sparkling enope squid, the firefly squid grows only three inches long (whereas the average fully grown variety is 24 inches). The small size allows the squid to be served whole, often eaten in one bite, an intense briny liquid burst giving way to the plump texture of firmer tentacles.
In Tokyo’s Sushiso Masa, Chef Masakatsu Oka serves the cephalopod both raw and grilled sushi-style. Cooked, the squid has the flavor of roasted crab; in the raw version, Oka marinates the squid for two weeks in mirin, soy, and sake (a dish Chef David Kinch described to be one of the most “challenging bites” of his recent Tokyo trip). Chef Kenichiro Ooe of Kozue at Park Hyatt also serves his raw firefly squid marinated, a traditional Japanese technique.
Using a sea-like plate for his presentation, Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa of Takazawa creates an elegant platter of raw elements: an earthy sea snail, sweet-salty sea grapes, the tender firefly squid, and, for texture and crunch, tiny freshwater crabs called sawagani. For a slightly simpler plate—though no less luxurious—Chef Seiji Yamamoto of RyuGin cooks his firefly squid in the traditional Japanese steamed egg custard dish, chawanmushi.
Firefly Squid from Chef Masakatsu Oka of Sushiso Masa - Tokoyo, Japan
Marinated Raw Firefly Squid from Chef Masakatsu Oka of Sushiso Masa - Tokoyo, Japan
Seasonal Delicacies: Simmered Green Peas; Horse Mackerel Sushi with Bamboo Leaf; Salted Firefly Squid; Bonito Jelly; Octopus Jelly; Simmered Sweet Potato; Shinshu Carp Chips; Deep-fried Koshiabuta Greens; and Duck Breast with Sticky Mustard from Chef Kenichiro Ooe of Kozue at Park Hyatt – Tokyo, Japan
Sea: Hairy Crab Sea Snail, Barnacles, Sea Grapes, Firefly Squid, and Sawagani from Chef Yoshinori Takazawa of Takazawa – Tokyo, Japan
Firefly Squid Salad with Summer Gochujang Vinaigrette from Chef Youji Iwakura of Oishii Sushi Bar - Boston, MA
While used more widely in the Far East, determined stateside chefs source them too, as Youji Iwakura does at Oishii in Boston, Massachusetts. His Firefly Squid Salad combines the product with earthy Gochujang vinaigrette (a traditional sauce made with fermented red chile paste), the fresh flavor of cucumber-seaweed salad, and the salinity of sea beans. The dish offers traditional Japanese flavors, with just enough approachability to satiate an American audience.
Although sashimi is Iwakura’s preferred choice for serving firefly squid, he says procuring the product raw in the United States is not easy. The squid is generally found steamed and frozen here, Iwakura explains, because 7 percent of the mollusks carry parasites and are often frozen to reduce illness. While the firefly squid are consumed raw in Japan, similar to oysters or any seafood consumed raw, procuring fresh product is important. Toyama Bay, in central north in Japan, is the most popular area for firefly squid fishing (it’s also where Iwakura orders his), but they can be found in other Pacific waters.
No matter how you get them—raw in Japan, or frozen in the United States—firefly squid offer the ability to serve a whole squid, with all its contrasting textures, in one wondrous bite.