Ketupat Sotong versi Terengganu – Stuffed Squid with Glutinous Rice
Due to its geographical advantage, the culinary speciality in Terengganu seems to revolve much around seafood. From Pulut Lepa, Laksam to Ketam Sumbat and Gulai Ikan Tongkol accompanying Nasi Dagang, not forgetting the ever-popular pasar malam fanfare of Ikan Bakar and Keropok Ikan Lekor, a lot of Terengganuan dishes, together with those from the eastern coast of the Peninsula tap heavily on the abundant resources of the vast South China Sea, some of which are almost exclusively found only in this region. Ketupat Sotong versi Terengganu is one such intriguing dish where squid is filled with glutinous rice before being cooked in a rich coconut milk gravy doused heavily with local spices.
“Sotong sumbat” where squid is used as a makeshift “sausage casing” for flavoured stuffing is not uncommon in Malay and Chinese cuisine. This technique even extends to other culinary disciplines in the region e.g. Rellenong Pusit in the Philippines and Pad Kee Mao in Thailand and Muc nhoi thit in Vietnam. This mode of cooking is so popular that even Gordon Ramsay has a recipe for it. Then again, why am I’m not surprised. While ground meat is usually used as a filling, glutinous rice is definitely something quite novel. The only proximal reference I could make is 糯米灌肠 but pig intestines are used as the casing instead. Then there’s black pudding of course! Yummy! While being extremely curious about this dish, I can’t help but to feel skeptical to how it would taste. Firstly, putting the two together seems to be a culinary impossibility.
Most seafood requires an incredibly short period of time to cook, and especially in the case of squid, a matter of barely a few seconds. Glutinous rice on the other hand, requires an extended cooking period for the grains to soak up all the flavours and become soft. Given the same amount of time to cook glutinous rice for squid would be a cooking disaster as prolonged cooking time is often detrimental to seafood. Fish meat would disintegrate into nothingness, shrimp and other crustaceans would become powdery, losing much of its succulence and flavour, while squid and other mollusks would harden to become tough and rubbery. But mollusks given a long cooking time (> 1 hour) yield an entirely different animal altogether,becoming so soft and tender as those fibrous tissues finally give in to the long periods over the stove.. Think braised abalone in a claypot for 2 hours and you’ll know what I mean. But the glutinous rice in Ketupat Sotong does not require such exaggerated and sophisticated treatment. Well at least I hadn’t read about it in any Ketupat Sotong recipe I’d encountered in the course of researching on this dish. In fact, most recipes I came across require no more than 10 min to complete the cooking process. Very curious indeed…
Despite the numerous doubts I have, I decided to give this dish a try, replicating how the Terengganuans do it. Curiosity kills the cat as they say, and I’m most certainly curious about how it wold taste! Well, apparently Kelantan also has their own version of Ketupat Sotong but the gravy is brown owing the liberal use of gula melaka. Then comes the question of the “condition” of the glutinous rice to be used. Some online recipes called for soaked but still raw rice to be used for stuffing the squids while other versions I’d seen online, or more specifically over youtube call for the rice to be steamed first. I chose the latter which would supposedly require less cooking time and hopefully not cause the sotong to become rubbery. Taking a long shot and keeping my fingers here…
Ketupat Sotong versi Terengganu (recipe adapted from here and here)
250g glutinous rice
500g squid, medium sized
300 ml fresh thick coconut milk
4 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and finely juilenned
1 tbsp fenugreek
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp corn flour or similar starch-based thickening agent, mixed with some water.
Rinse glutinous rice until clear and soak for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
Steam glutinous rice over high heat for 20 min until JUST cooked.
Clean squid thoroughly, removing head and innards. Peel away purplish surface membrane.
When the rice has cooled down sufficiently, wet hands slightly and compact rice into tightly presed balls. Proceed to stuff into the squid cavity with it until 3/4 full, using fingers to nudge carefully to ensure that the lower ends are completely filled without leaving any gaps.
Secure the opening with toothpicks. Repeat until all the squid and glutinous rice is completely used up. Set aside for later use.
To a deep saucepan or pot, place all the other ingredients except sugar, salt and cornstarch. Top up with some water if necessary to ensure that there is sufficient liquids to keep the stuff squids at least 3/4 submerged.
When the concoction comes to a boil, turn the flame down to the lowest possible and lay the squid over the poaching liquids.
Stir and rotate the squid periodically to ensure even cooking and prevent the coconut milk from curdling.
Add salt and sugar to adjust taste.
Cover pot with lid and allow to simmer gently for 10 min.
Add corn starch-water mixture to thicken the gravy to desired consistency.
Truth be told, I didn’t really enjoy the dish. My initial suspicions were correct, i.e. the squid rings were a tad too chewy for my liking despite the short cooking time. The gravy was very flavourful but somehow, it did not penetrate through into the glutinous rice. Though the gravy can be enjoyed as a “dipping” for the stuffed squids, I would have preferred the rice to be thoroughly infused with the flavours from the kuah. Perhaps the gravy could have been prepared first and drizzled it over the glutinous rice to flavour it as the latter is being steamed. That would probably work better. If I were to attempt this dish again, I’ll probably go by the raw rice stuffing method and prolong the cooking time by a lot more to allow the squid to soften. Perhaps I can try this for the Kelantan version where gula melaka is used. It is my favorite sugar, so the results can’t be that bad yeah?
In retrospect, did I regret making this dish? Well no. At least I doubted, I tried, I confirmed and now I know…