Malaysian Squid Curry

I went to the Portobello Market today intending to buy a rabbit and some octopus. I was dreaming, vaguely, of Spanish food. I got there too late for the rabbit (damn jetlag!) and lovely Gary of Gary’s Fresh Fish said that octopus is too expensive right now for him to sell it at the prices he likes. But staring at me balefully from Gary’s bins were some giant – I mean massive – cephalopods. (The baleful stare is a figure of speech. They were, of course, dead.) Five pounds later, I was one squid richer (the bugger weighed nearly two pounds) and images of spicy squid laced with turmeric and tamarind and coconut were swimming through my head.

This is a rich, dense curry. It reminds me of Malaysian curries, which is good, since that’s what I was aiming for. (I can’t promise that all of the ingredients are strictly Malaysian, but since Malaysian cuisine is such a wonderful cross-section of culinary influences – China! India! Thailand! – I think I’m okay faking it.) It is super tasty and it packs a wallop. The key is not being timid about bubbling and reducing your sauce to get that caramel-y intensity of flavour. Now the next thing I need to learn how to make is delicious Malaysian roti, because this is a sauce for dunking. If you eat it with rice (even better: coconut rice) you will be perfectly happy, however.


1.5 to 2 pounds squid. You can buy cleaned squid or you can follow my directions. If using baby squid, feel free to simply slice into rings. More mature squid should be scored with a sharp knife on the diagonal into little diamonds and cut into 1″ x 3″ strips. Do use the tentacles, as they are delicious.

½ teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns

½ teaspoon black mustard seeds

½ teaspoon coriander (whole seeds or ground)

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon palm sugar (you can substitute brown sugar)

½ teaspoon tamarind concentrate (if using paste, use the same amount – concentrate just saves time because you don’t have to mix it with water and strain it)

Finely grated zest of ½ lime

Juice of ½ lime

200 milliliters coconut milk

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

2 thai chili peppers, thinly sliced

1 red chili pepper, preferably Indonesian cabe – otherwise, any thin spicy red chili pepper will do, thinly sliced

2-3 teaspoons salt

2-3 tablespoons fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, for garnish


In a small pan, toast your Szechuan peppercorns, mustard seeds, and, if using whole coriander, your coriander seeds over medium heat until the spices are fragrant and the mustard seeds have started to pop. Transfer to a mortar and pestle (or, if you wish, a mini food processor) and pound to a powder. Add the turmeric, paprika, lime zest, lime juice, palm sugar, tamarind, and coconut milk, and mix thoroughly. (If using ground coriander, add it now too.)

If you have a wok congratulations! Use that. Otherwise, heat the oil in a skillet until quite hot, add the garlic and sauté briefly until it releases an aroma, but do not allow it to brown. Add your delightful curry mixture to the pan and allow to bubble vigorously, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced by at least half and has turned a rich caramel brown colour.

Stir in the salt, chilis, and squid, and continue to cook over high heat, tossing occasionally to ensure even cooking. Young tender squid should not take more than two to three minutes to cook. More mature squid may take four to six minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately, garnished with fresh cilantro.

Serves 3-4 people (depending on how much squid you use).


8 thoughts on “Malaysian Squid Curry

  1. This looks great, Susan!

    I don’t have a lot of experience cooking with squid – I think I’ve done it maybe twice – and I’ve certainly never disassembled an entire one – I just had the cleaned head-tube and tentacles, and I cut up those.

    So, yeah! A post in which you detail how to remove the quillbone, the beak, and (augh) the eyes would be super useful.

    Also, when Gary’s octo-prices are more amenable, may I put in a request for garlicky Spanish grilled octopus? My girlfriend and I had some many months ago at a tapas place, and I was entranced by how firm (but unrubbery) it was.


    • David, thanks for the vote for the squid cleaning post. It is always beneficial to occasionally write about something that makes unsuspecting morning blog browsers blink, swallow hard, and swiftly shut their laptops. I photographed the cleaning process yesterday, but now I feel like I didn’t take sufficient pictures of the truly disgusting parts, like where you grasp the squid head firmly in your fist and pull it out, along with the squid’s innards. No, my photos yesterday are sanitised and I think they don’t do the process justice.

      As to the Spanish grilled octopus — well, you are now the SECOND person ever to ask for a specific recipe and I would be delighted — no, honoured — to accommodate your request. My Pulpo Gallegas (I think that’s what you’re after) is a thing of beauty.

  2. The squid looks so scary in its uncooked state, but your finished dish looks absolutely delicious. I’ve actually got an octopus and a rabbit in my freezer at the moment, so if you do get around to cooking either I’ll look forward to reading the recipes! Great post 🙂

    • Thanks for visiting! I couldn’t resist including a photo of the squid — I think these may have been the hugest squid I’ve seen outside of, say, a nature program. I love that you have both a rabbit and an octopus in your freezer. (Mine is rather duck-heavy at the moment.) If I recall correctly, your freezer frequently contains out-of-the-ordinary beasties.

  3. Pingback: Improv Dinner I « The Clean Platter

  4. Thank you for posting this, we tried it the other night and it was the perfect way to use up a couple of squid that had been in our freezer for way too long… We also used fish sauce instead of salt, which seemed to work well with the dish.

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