Surface area. Collagen. Muscle fibres. And why we score fish and squid before we cook them.
Like other meats, it is to make sure the flavors penetrate the meat. But for fish and squid, this is particularly important and it has to do with their body structure.
Fish have mostly fast-twitch fibers, which contract quickly so that they can make sudden getaways from predators. Squid muscle fibres are even thinner; in fact, their diameters are one tenth or less of fish muscle fibres. As a result, both fish and squid muscle fibres break down quickly when cooked.
They are thus both very fast to cook and should only be cooked for a short time. This ensures the muscle fibres do not toughen or break down. During this time, scoring the fish and squid increases the surface area cooking the inside and for flavors (from sauces for example) to penetrate. We thus get an evenly cooked and wonderfully savory dish even though we only cooked it briefly.
There is one difference between fish and squid body structure though. Fish have less collagen (a structural protein) to hold up their bodies because they live in water where the effects of gravity are not as pronounced. They only need a fairly thin bone structure.
Squid on the other hand, do not have a bone structure. They rely on collagen to hold up their body weight. Having more collagen means there is another way we can cook squid. If we do not want to cook it quickly, we can opt to cook it for a much longer time – such as to let it simmer for over an hour – so that the collagen breaks down.
This gives the squid dish a very different texture and flavor. If we tried to do the same for fish, all we end up with is a very mushy fish dish. Not so nice.
You can read more about how fish cooks quickly in the 1-Minute NomNom “Fast food“. You can also find out more about how cooking meats with lots of collagen for a lot time makes them yummy in the 1-Minute NomNom “Power of braise“.
Once you understand the science behind all of these, you can really score with your cooking. And we are not just talking about fish and squid.
Like me and you will score with your knowledge. All you need is a minute a day to explore the world’s marvels through the phenomenon of food!
photos: in order – depositphotos/aaa187; istockphoto/a-poselenov; despositphotos/ nblxer; paulbrighton