I have a thing for black foods, whether it's mysterious, lovely black garlic (the secret to its color: fermentation) or adding charcoal powder with its reputed health benefits to cookies, cakes, and breads.
Now add one more ingredient to the list: squid ink. It goes by many other names: nero di seppia, cuttlefish ink, tinta calamar, and octopus ink.
Cephalopods (marine mollusks like octopus, squid, and cuttlefish who usually have arms with suckers on them), secrete the ink in a sac that they expel to either hide themselves from or scare off predators. Squid ink was also one of the first sources of writing ink and gets its dark color from melanin, which is also the pigment that gives human skin darker colors and enables it to tan.
But the most interesting facts about squid ink for cooks is 1) it adds a rich and briny flavor to your dishes and 2) the color is hella dramatic. Like the best-tasting fish, squid ink tastes full-bodied and clean, with underlying hints of the sea.
Oh, and did we mention that it's relatively cheap for a gourmet ingredient and easily obtainable?
If you're lucky enough to live in a place where you have a good fishmonger, you can also ask them to sell you some squid ink (or some fresh squid and you can harvest the ink yourself). Check your local gourmet stores and ethnic markets, too.
Traditionally, squid ink has been used to make dramatic-looking rice, pasta, and bread dishes. Check out this beautiful squid ink fettucine:
And this beautiful black paella, made with black rice, squid ink, and black mushrooms, courtesy of Daniel Food Diary:
How 'bout squid ink bread made by 85°C Bakery?
Or this inky drink—a squid ink vodka sour, from Kadist Bar in San Francisco:
Not to mention this beautiful squid ink risotto, topped with cuttlefish and Parmesan foam:
The Japanese, like the Italians, have a long-standing tradition of cooking with squid ink. If you've been to Japan, you might have tried ika-sumi jiru, or cuttlefish ink soup. I think this bowl of ika-sumi curry looks even more delicious:
And we can't forget the black burger craze that's sweeping Tokyo. This example is brought to you by Burger King and squid ink:
Just be careful to read the recipe and watch the amounts of squid ink you use. It's delicious when used judiciously, but it can give your dishes a metallic aftertaste if you go overboard.
If you're interested in cooking with squid ink, check out this post on Serious Eats for recipes including black clams casino, spicy black risotto with calamari, and crab ravioli with black brown butter and tarragon.
Eating fish is famously good for you (there's a reason fish oil capsules fly off the shelves), and it turns out squid ink is no exception. Preliminary studies show that squid ink could help increase white blood cells and therefore immunity. It also shows some potential in fighting tumors and bacteria.
All the more reason to try it, no?