In the sea, it’s a an escape mechanism. On a plate? It’s an intense addition to any meal. Squid ink is an intriguing bit of nature to say the least. So what is it exactly and how do we eat it? We dove into the murky depths for some answers.
The concept is almost seductive in a way (kind of like Mata Hari disappearing into the night on a daring spy mission). Sensing danger nearby in the water, the squid releases the ink in a thick dark cloud, giving the frightened cephalopod just enough time to flee. The ink itself is made in a sac between the creature’s intestine and, er, rear-end, where it can be quickly ejected.
Procuring some for yourself isn’t actually as difficult as one might think. For the truly ambitious (and not for the feint of heart) it’s possible to extract the ink from the squid itself, right in your own kitchen. The process is a bit …grimey: get a fresh squid, remove the innards, find the ink sac (typically very tiny, silvery and oblong in shape) then gently puncture it with a knife and squeeze the contents out into a non-porous bowl (others will stain, egads!) Once cooked and topped with various sauces or seafoods of your liking, the ink in the pasta lends a subtle salty, briny flavor to the dish. (Pro-tip: Give it to us with some calamari and spicy tomato sauce and you win our hearts.)
But for the squid-gutting averse (hey, we don’t blame you) there are several markets that sell the ink packaged up and ready to go, like Di Palo Selects in Little Italy, Buon Italia inside Chelsea Market or Despaña in Soho.
There are plenty of ways an adventurous chef might choose to cook with squid ink, but the most popular method by far is mixing it right into some pasta dough. Just start as you would with any other pasta recipe, then add the ink alongside the requisite eggs, olive oil and salt. Pro tip: blend it up with a fork until the ink is consistent throughout the flour. This should help reduce the amount of ink that ends up on your hands while kneading the dough. Meaning, the result? It’s pure win.
If a culinary experiment is not in the cards at your humble abode, there’s still ways to try it out around the city, from rich risotto to jet black spaghetti. Piccoli Trattoria in Park Slope offers both, with their Spaghetti al Granchio (black spaghetti with wild blue crab meat, scallions, lemon and calabrian chili) and the Risotto Nero (risotto with squid ink, calamari, parsley and white wine.) Al Di La Trattoria, also over in Park Slope, classes it up with their Spaghetti Neri Alla Chitarra, a homemade black spaghetti served with octopus confit, basil and hot chili pepper. Da Andrea in Chelsea switches things up with a Tagliolini al Nero, a bed of squid ink tagliolini with fresh clams, cherry tomatoes and white wine. Or if you’re ever lucky enough to catch it on special at Roberta’s,the famed pizza joint has been known to offer their own delicious take on squid ink pasta with mussels and sea urchin taboot. Hungry yet?