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Squid Ink: What it Tastes Like & How to Cook with It

The culinary world has given new life to squid ink and boosted its reputation by introducing an array of uses for this intriguing ingredient.

When building a flavor profile for a particular dish, squid ink would not be the first ingredient to come to mind for most people. Squid use their ink for protection, and some find its appearance to be objectionable.

However, squid ink has become a star among underdog ingredients and found a respectable position in the culinary world.

What Does Squid Ink Taste Like?

The taste of squid ink is best described as “briny”. Briny is the taste of the sea. Think of a really delicious fish that is clean, full-bodied and encompasses an earthy ocean flavor. Squid ink has a very neutral taste on its own, so its flavor comes mostly from its surroundings.

Squid ink has a richness that brings truffles to mind while adding the saltiness of an oyster. When used in pasta, it is used mainly for dramatic color presentation and does not change the taste of the pasta itself.

It is not only used for its subtle flavor, but the color of squid ink is so vibrant and deep adding gusto and new dimensions to your dishes.

Squid Ink Pasta
A Squid Ink Pasta. Photo courtesy of Jameson Fink.

Black pasta and rice are commonly used in Spain, Italy and other parts of the world. The black pasta is a striking change from having a plate of white pasta. Adding a new color to the dish that is so dynamic it gives your eyes a delightful visual treat.

It goes pretty well paired with combined in a dish that uses a mild fish like grouper or something similar.

Anyone avoiding ink out of fear that it has a strong flavor can rest easy. Most chefs utilize it only as an interesting way to change the look and feel of a dish.

Where to Find Squid Ink

If you live in coastal areas, squid ink should be reasonably easy to find. If you are land-locked, you may have difficulty finding fresh squid or squid that has not been previously frozen.

Squid Ink Taste

One of the easiest ways to get good-quality squid ink is by simply ordering it through Amazon. Here’s an Amazon link to Alma Gourmet Cuttlefish Ink. It comes in a 3.2oz jar that’s perfect for trying out. At the very least, it’s a great way to impress friends who enjoy the adventurous side of the culinary world.

You can talk to your local market and possibly get the name of a reputable fresh seafood dealer and have the fresh squid shipped to your home.

If you’re really picky, find a quality Spanish, Italian or Japanese specialty food shop and they can assist in purchasing squid ink. There are plenty of other gourmet food sites online where you can buy squid ink in jars or packets.

Cooking with Squid Ink

Cooking with squid has endless possibilities. You may want to start with pasta, like fettuccine or spaghetti.

When you add the eggs to the pasta making process, pour in a few drops of squid ink and watch this beautiful deep color pasta come to life. You can also do the same with risotto or rice.

Droplets of squid ink while cooking will pop those otherwise bland looking staples into striking dishes.

You can dry squid ink in the oven, crumble it into tiny pieces, add seasoning of your choice and it can be used on a variety of foods. The most delicious way to use squid ink is in sauces or to pair it with seafood dishes to bring a bit of pizzazz and uniqueness to your plate.

Some of the most common and uncommon recipes for squid ink can be found on various internet sites and include many pasta dishes, sushi, fish, pizza, Paella, and even ice cream and macaroons.

Squid ink contains no animal cells and could actually be considered vegetarian. Once you understand that squid ink is not a strange ingredient used only in high-end restaurants, your world opens up to its many possibilities.

What species of squid creates the best ink?

Gould’s squid and Teuthoidea are often used for their ink as well as cuttlefish. Cuttlefish are very similar to squid with one difference; they have a cuttlebone that you will have to remove before preparation in your dishes.

How to Harvest Squid Ink Yourself

Retrieving squid ink from fresh squid is not as difficult as you would think.

People can sometimes become a bit apprehensive about working with squid, but it’s really not a big deal. You will need to get past any preconceived notions about the squid ink and get on with harvesting.

First, purchase fresh squid and take a good look at it before buying. Fresh squid will have a cream-colored or white body covered in reddish-brown spots. If you are looking at pink squid or robust smelling squid, do not buy it.

Living in a region where you can catch squid is the best scenario. If you can, go out and bring in your own catch of squid.

To begin removing the squid ink, you need to pull the head and tentacles out of the body. Watch out because the guts will follow as you pull the head and tentacles out.

Remove the ink sac very carefully because you do not want to puncture it until you are ready. Make sure you have a small ceramic or glass bowl nearby.

Squid ink can stain plastic bowls and cloth. If you have a large ink sac, carefully puncture it with a knife and squeeze the ink into your container.

If the ink sac is small, be gentle, so you do not end up with ink stains on everything. Squeeze the ink sacs until they no longer drip the black liquid.

Lastly, cut the tentacles off below the eyes being very careful not to puncture anything. You should be able to see dark bits on the silvery back side of the squid’s retina.

Using your knife again, stick the ink and squeeze it into the bowl with the rest of the squid ink.

Final Thoughts

Squid ink has been used in meals in regions of Spain, Italy, and Japan for centuries. The rest of the world is now embracing this intriguing ingredient and finding new ways to use it. It is a versatile ingredient and can be used in anything from pasta to desserts.

Even culinary classics now include squid ink in recipes, allowing more and more people to experience the flavor and unparalleled vibrancy of this nectar of the sea.

So cast aside any reservations you may have about ordering a dish with ink in it! It’s a cool culinary experience and it’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s definitely something to cross off the seafood bucket list!