Chilled Japanese ika salad is a flavorful combination of tender squid, crunchy cucumber and carrots, and a simple vinegar soy dressing that is deliciously tangy and irresistible! This recipe is quick and nearly effortless to put together for a refreshing summertime side dish or light lunch.
Ika salad – or ika sansai – is a traditional Japanese marinated squid salad. It has a terrific balance of textures and flavors – from sweet and crunchy to tender and briny – loaded into every perfectly cold bite.The specific ingredients can vary from recipe to recipe, but I am sure you will love this classic version brimming with delectable squid, cucumbers, carrots, and green onions tossed together in an Asian-style vinaigrette.
Although this refreshing Japanese seafood salad is hearty and tastes wonderfully complex, it is surprisingly easy to put together in only about 15 minutes. (Plus, it’s even terrific to make ahead a day or so!)
There is minimal cooking required here: squid is quickly boiled and blanched in an ice bath, so each piece is fork-tender without any unpleasant chewiness.
The squid is then sliced and combined with the chopped fresh veggies and a simple but tangy homemade dressing of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar. Then pop the salad in the fridge for at least one hour to marinate and really let all of those layers of bold, umami and fresh flavors build up. I promise it is definitely worth a bit of a wait!
Serve this chilled salad on a warm spring or summer evening as a light side dish, or for a delicious lunch. I recommend making a nice large batch to keep on hand for those last-minute picnic and potluck invitations, casual weekday meals, and anytime savory/salty/sweet/crunchy cravings.
How to make ika salad
Alright, let’s get started on a tasty squid salad. First things first, you need to clean your squid really well. Begin by separating the tentacles from the body. Just pull them off gently, and keep them aside for a moment.
Inside the main part of the squid, you’ll find a clear, plastic-like thing that’s called the quill. You don’t want that in your salad! Take it out and throw it away.
Once that’s done, focus on the skin of the squid. It might have a bit of color, but you want to remove it to get to the nice white part underneath. So, just peel it off like you would with an orange.
While you’re getting the squid ready, you can start boiling a big pot of water on the stove. Remember to sprinkle in some salt; it helps with flavor. Now, with the squid cleaned up, it’s time to cut it into edible pieces.
Slice the main body of the squid into ring shapes, like rubber bands. For the tentacles, since they can be a bit wiggly and long, chop them into shorter, bite-size chunks.
Back to the boiling water on your stove. When you see big bubbles, it’s time to cook the squid. Put your squid rings and tentacle pieces into the hot water. Keep an eye on them! In just 1-2 minutes, they’ll change from a clearish color to a solid white.
You want to grab them out just as they turn white because if they cook too long, they’ll feel like rubber. Not good! Once they’re done, scoop them out and drop them in a bowl of cold water. This helps them stop cooking and cools them down faster.
Okay, with the squid taken care of, let’s prep some veggies to add some crunch and color to the salad. Get a cucumber and a carrot. Cut both of them into thin, matchstick-like pieces. It might sound fancy, but it’s just slicing them thin. Grab some green onions too and chop them up.
For the salad dressing, which will give your salad a lot of its taste, grab a big bowl. Pour in some soy sauce, a bit of rice vinegar, a splash of sesame oil, and a spoonful of sugar. Stir them all together. This mix will give you a lovely balance of flavors — a little salty, a little tangy, and a touch of sweetness.
Once it’s all mixed up, drop in your squid pieces, the cucumber, carrot, and green onions. Give it all a good stir, making sure everything gets a nice coating of the dressing. For a final touch, sprinkle the whole thing with sesame seeds. They add a nice little crunch and flavor.
You’re almost done! Now, even though you might want to eat it straight away, your salad will taste even better if you let it sit and chill for a bit. Cover your bowl and pop it in the fridge for around an hour.
This gives all the flavors time to get to know each other better. After the wait, take it out, serve it up, and enjoy your delicious, simple squid salad!
Whole squid. Fresh, or previously frozen and thawed in the fridge overnight. See the full recipe for steps to clean and prepare the squid for cooking.
Soy sauce. Classic ingredient in many Asian recipes, with a deep umami and salty flavor.
Rice vinegar. Tangy acid that lightly pickles the veggies.
Sesame oil. A smooth, slightly nutty oil.
Sugar. To balance the bold flavors of the soy and vinegar.
Cucumber. Refreshing and crisp, with a mild flavor.
Carrot. Crunchy and sweet.
Green onions. Earthy, pungent, with great freshness.
Sesame seeds (not pictured). They add a light nutty taste and a great bit of crunchy texture. Feel free to leave out if you prefer.
Salt. Just a bit, to taste.
Frequently asked questions
Keep the squid in a bag with the air squeezed out as much as possible. Defrost in the fridge overnight, preferably on a plate or shallow dish to catch any moisture.
For faster thawing, submerge the sealed bag in a large container of cold water. Change the water out with fresh cold water every 30 minutes, until the squid has defrosted. This method typically takes about an hour.
Yes, calamari is Italian and ika is Japanese for the same English word, “squid.”
Yes, and no. We quickly blanch the rings of squid before cooling and adding to the salad. The veggies and sesame oil dressing are not cooked.
Quality squid should taste mildly sweet and slightly ocean-y. After blanching and tossing with the remaining salad ingredients, the tender meat takes on the bold flavors of the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil.
It is a very healthy dish! Blanched squid and raw veggies are a low calorie and low fat combination that pack in lots of vitamins and nutrients. Squid also has a good amount of protein per serving size.
It’s best to consume the salad within 1-2 days for optimal freshness and taste. Squid can become rubbery or lose its flavor if stored for too long.
When you’re ready to eat the leftovers, give the salad a good stir, as the dressing might settle at the bottom. If it’s been in the fridge for a while, consider adding a splash of fresh lemon or lime juice to brighten the flavors before serving.
Expert tips and tricks
- When boiling the squid, timing is everything. Overcooking will lead to rubbery texture. As soon as they turn opaque white, immediately plunge them into the cold water to halt the cooking.
- Using an ice bath not only stops the cooking process instantly but also firms up the squid, giving it a nice bite.
- If you want extra crunchy veggies, you can also plunge the sliced cucumber and carrots into iced water for about 10 minutes. This crisps them up!
- Consider adding a little grated ginger or a dash of chili flakes to the dressing for an extra kick. Fresh herbs like cilantro or mint can also elevate the flavor profile.
- Toast the sesame seeds lightly in a dry pan before sprinkling. Toasting enhances their nutty flavor.
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Hope you will like this ika salad recipe as much as we do. Please rate this recipe if you made and leave a comment below if you have any questions or suggestions.
- 2 whole squid (approximately 1 pound)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cucumber
- 1 carrot
- 2 green onions
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (not pictured)
- Salt, to taste
- Clean the squid thoroughly. Remove the tentacles and set them aside. Pull out the quill (the transparent backbone) from the tube and discard it. Remove the skin by peeling it off.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt.
- Blanch the squid in the boiling water for about 1-2 minutes or until it becomes opaque. Be careful not to overcook, as the squid can become rubbery. Quickly transfer the cooked squid to an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
- While the squid is cooling, prepare the vegetables. Slice the cucumber and carrot into thin strips or julienne them. Chop the green onions.
- In a large bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar to create the dressing.
- Cut the squid into rings and the tentacles into bite-sized pieces. Add the cooled squid, cucumber, carrot, and green onions to the bowl. Toss everything together to coat the ingredients evenly with the dressing.
- Sprinkle the salad with sesame seeds.
- Cover and refrigerate the salad for at least 1 hour before serving to let the flavors meld together.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 156Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 66mgSodium: 1198mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 2gSugar: 5gProtein: 7g