Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Squid ink is a magical ingredient. As Bourdain said in the Venice No Reservations episode, when you see Chinese and Italian cooks doing the same thing, it must be special.
Very few ingredients impart the briny ocean flavor as delicately and uniquely as squid ink. A tablespoon of the stuff will send any seafood pasta or rice dish into a different dimension, and it's very easy to work with! So, why hasn't squid ink become ubiquitous in American restaurants?
Obviously availability is an issue here in the States. Specialty stores, such as DiPasquale's (where I grab some for my cupboard), still rely on Mediterranean exporters as domestic production is scarce. Second, it is a bit of an acquired taste. If you're a fan of oysters, sea urchin, and that general 'tastes-like-the-ocean' profile, then you're likely to love squid ink. Finally, and probably the main culprit preventing widespread fame in America, is the appearance. I mean, look at it; it's terrifying. One tablespoon will take relatively normal-looking pasta or rice plates and transform them into Lovecraftian nightmare. Fortunately, its flavor can overcome the branding challenges.
My first squid ink encounter was in Venice, where they use the ingredient better than anyone else, but it wasn't until this year - 11 years later - that I've finally started cooking with it. This entry is meant to de-mystify squid ink, and we're sharing 3 recipes that we've come to love:
- Squid Ink Risotto (recipe link)
- La Pizza Nera (recipe link)
- Inky Smoked Trout Ravioli (recipe link)
SQUID INK RISOTTO
Since this was the first dish I ever ate with squid ink, it seemed appropriate for this to be my first foray into cooking with it. This is an easy risotto that makes a good weeknight meal with leftovers for lunch. For more flavor and if you have time, try to make your own fish stock (and tell us how you did it).
4-6 healthy servings of risotto
1 heaping tablespoons squid/cuttlefish Ink
4 cups fish stock
3 tablespoons e.v. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (130g)
2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli Rice
40g salted butter (divided into two equal chunks)
125ml white wine (rec. Pinot Grigio)
50g mixture parmigiano reggiano/pecorino Romano Cheese
optional: tinned squid or octopus
1---In a large saucepan, add 4 cups of fish stock. Place over medium-low heat until the stock begins to simmer.
2---Place a high-walled sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil becomes fragrant, add the chopped onion. If using, pour some of the oil from the tinned octopus or squid into the olive oil. Cook the onion until soft and beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Pour in the rice and, using a silicone spatula, stir the rice around the pan for about a minute. Add one (1) chunk of butter and continue to stir, melting the butter and incorporating with the rice. Once melted, add the wine. Stir the wine, picking up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, and reduce by about 2/3rds.
3---Add about 3 ladles of the stock to the rice, turn the heat on the rice down to low. Keep the rest of the stock simmering. The stock will be added incrementally to the rice, so it’s important to not reduce the liquid as you’ll need about all 4 cup’s worth. Continue to stir the rice to make sure no grains stick to the bottom or sides of the pan and burn.
4---The rice will absorb the liquid rather aggressively. Continue to add the stock a ladle at a time, stirring the rice slowly for a few minutes until absorbed, repeating this process until the rice is al dente or you have used all four cups of stock (this happens roughly at the same time, but it’s not always exact. Keep a tasting spoon handy to check on your rice, especially as you near the end of the stock).
5---Add the squid/cuttlefish ink and stir aggressively to evenly incorporate throughout the rice.
6---When the liquid has been absorbed (or, depending on your preference, when the risotto has the appropriate balance between liquid and rice), turn off the heat, and add the remaining chunk of butter and cheese. Stir until both the butter and cheese have melted and are incorporated evenly throughout the risotto. Add salt to taste.
7---Garnish with lemon zest and parsley before serving.
LA PIZZA NERA
So, the risotto turned out well, and - as you probably guessed - we became squid ink-obsessed. Pizza was the next logical step. We invited some friends over, fired up the oven, and the "octo nero" was born. The octopus crisps up nicely in our pizza oven, and the sauce is a deep, unctuous, ocean flavor. Lemon and fresh post-oven mascarpone cheese cut through the brine.
1 pizza from the briny deep
white clam sauce
fresh chopped parsley
1---In a small saucepan, heat the white clam sauce and bring to a boil. When boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, and add a tablespoon of the squid/cuttlefish ink. Let simmer for about 20 minutes or until excess water has evaporated. Set aside.
2---Boil the octopus (or octopi) in heavily salted water whole for about 30 minutes, or until cooked. Pull out of the water and pat dry. Cut into tubes and tentacles.
3---Stretch out the pizza dough, and spread the sauce evenly. Top the pizza with the octopus, and cook in whichever oven you may be using for pizzas. If you’re using a home, wood-fired pizza oven, you’ll notice the octopus start to cook up and char nicely. Rotate so that the tentacles and tubes finish cooking evenly.
4---When done, pull the pizza out of the oven and top with dollops of mascarpone cheese, chopped parsley, and lemon zest.
INKY SMOKED TROUT RAVIOLI
Next, we started incorporating squid ink into pasta dough. We started with a simple squid ink fettuccine and then moved on to a filled pasta. Freshwater trout wrapped in salt water squid ink ravioli turned out to be a wonderful combination. The simple sauce brought all of the flavors together as a familiar seafood dish, but as a new experience. Try this one on a Sunday where you can devote the time to make your own ravioli.
THE PASTA DOUGH
1 cup type 00 flour (120g)
1 cup semolina flour (120g)
pinch of fine sea salt
dash of e.v. olive oil
1 tablespoon squid/cuttlefish ink
smoked trout filet
300g whole milk ricotta cheese
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh chopped Parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest
THE PASTA SAUCE
1 clove minced Garlic
¼ of a yellow onion, chopped
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1---Make a pasta dough as you normally would, but add a tablespoon of squid/cuttlefish ink to the well with the eggs before mixing. You may either add more flour or use just the yolks of the eggs to offset the added liquid presented by the ink. Let rest at room temperature for at least 30 min. If resting in the fridge, allow the dough to come back to room temperature before laminating.
2---Make the ravioli filling. In a mixing bowl, combine the trout filet, ricotta cheese, and parsley. Mix until the desired consistency: not too liquidy, not too chunky. Should be workable with raw, thin pasta dough. You may have to start with less ricotta cheese and gauge the consistency as you mix. Once incorporated, add the salt and lemon zest and give the filling one final mix.
3---Laminate the pasta to its thinnest setting. To fill the ravioli, place two cutting boards about an inch apart and lay a sheet of pasta over the gap (pictured above). You may use a piping bag or simply use a spoon to add the filling, leave a space of about an inch between dollops.
4---Fold the pasta sheet over the filling, and - using a ravioli cutter or a knife - cut the ravioli, and place on a floured baking sheet. You can crimp the edges with a fork in case you don’t have a ravioli cutter. Set the ravioli aside or put in the fridge depending on when you want to cook them.
5---Boil a large pot of water for the ravioli. The fresh ravioli will cook quickly, so when the water is nearly ready to boil, begin a quick sauce. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high, and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When fragrant, add the chopped onion. When the onion is soft and starting to brown, add the garlic. When the garlic becomes fragrant, add white wine and scrape up any brown bits as the wine reduces. Lower the heat. Put the ravioli in the boiling water to cook for about 3-5 minutes (they will float when they’re ready).
6---Melt the butter and add lemon juice to the sauce, increase the heat back to medium high. Make sure the liquids in the sauce are evenly incorporated. As the ravioli start to float, use a spider strainer and add them to the sauce. Some residual pasta water will help with the sauce’s consistency. Toss the ravioli in the sauce for a few minutes, or until the sauce is a little thick and the ravioli are evenly-coated.
7---Garnish with parsley and some parmigiano reggiano before serving.