Thick and black as pitch with a tendency to stain everything it touches, squid ink is a curious, almost mystical substance. It has long been used, in the cuisines of the Mediterranean, as a striking black dye for rice, pasta, or sauce, carrying the the table a subtle yet distinct flavor of the ocean; deeply aquatic yet not briny, somehow rich and weightless.
I first came across squid ink at a restaurant in Madrid. Perusing the menu I was struck by a dish that sounded vengeful, almost satanic: calamar en su tinta, squid cook in its own ink. When it arrived, the dish confirmed my suspicions. Clearly the work of some cephalopod-loathing chef, the fish were presented whole, floating inert in a sea of inky black sauce. The taste was sinfully sublime, tender squid awash in the rich, profoundly maritime sauce thickened with tomatoes, onions, and garlic.
In the ocean, the squid, along with most other species of cephalopod, store ink in little sacs situated between their gills. Under attack they eject this pigment and it blooms into a black cloud, allowing the squid time to escape a temporarily befuddled predator. Spearing another piece of squid, tentacles trembling beneath their craggy black cloak, I decided that there is something rather ghoulish about eating a sea creature’s defense mechanism, as if you are partaking of a witches brew or feast from the depths of Medusa’s lair. It is an experience I highly recommend.
Beyond the traditional arroz nergo and calamar en su tinta, squid ink can be used in a variety of ways. Here I add it to fresh pasta dough, creating coal black fettuccine. It makes an ideal base for a variety of seafood pasta dishes. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make fresh pasta, squid ink can be added to the sauce for much the same effect. Either way it is delicious. Serves 4-6 as a main course.
for the pasta:
4 cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
16 gm squid or cuttlefish ink
for the sauce:
4 shallots, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 small red chili peppers, or to taste
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 lb small calamari, body sliced into rings, tentacles left whole
1 tbsp maras pepper flakes
½ cup creme fraiche or sour cream
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs such as chives and parsley
Make the pasta: follow the instructions for basic pasta from scratch here. Add the squid ink along with the eggs and olive oil. Once pasta is kneaded, rolled, and cut, leave it hanging while you make the sauce.
1. Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium low. Add the shallots and cook gently until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, chilies, and asparagus and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add wine, vinegar (and squid ink if using in sauce) and cook for another 2-3 minutes until mostly evaporated. Cover and set aside.
2. Place a large pot full of well salted water on to boil.
3. Toss calamari, maras pepper flakes, pinch of salt and remaining olive oil together in a bowl.
4. Heat a large skillet over a high heat. When hot add calamari mixture and saute for a minute or two. Remove from heat and add to sauce.
5. Boil fettuccine for 30 seconds or until ready. Toss with sauce and calamari.
– Rachel Adams