Cooking the Unthinkable is a series that examines some of the more eccentric ingredients. Whether you are a fan of the bizarre or are preparing for the eminent collapse of Western society this series will help you better stomach weird food.
When I told a friend of mine that I had purchased a kit for making Arroz con Calamares en su tinta (rice with squid in its own ink) he was perplexed. An avid scuba diver he asked, “Isn’t the ink part of the squid’s natural defenses?” adding, “I’m not sure that’s something you should eat.”
With confidence I replied, “Sure, it’s fine. The government wouldn’t let them sell it if it was dangerous.”
So what do I really know about squid ink? Not much really aside from it’s popular use on Iron Chef where it’s flavor is always described as inky. Inky? What the hell does that mean?
I do not know where I can buy fresh squid ink in Mobile, Alabama so forgive me, my culinary brethren, for purchasing a meal-in-a-box from the international market. I followed the package directions, water boiling I emptied the bag of rice. Nothing abnormal so far. Then the can of squid in its own ink.
There it was! There was the strange odor. This was going to be different. 25 minutes later as I filled my plate I thought back to my friend’s words, “I’m not sure that’s something you should eat.” Then my own arrogance echoed through my mind as the first forkful approached my mouth, “Sure, it’s fine. The government wouldn’t let them sell it if it was dangerous.” Would they?
Then I thought of Burger King. There isn’t anything they sell that isn’t toxic to humans and the President just hired a Burger King employee as Surgeon General. Maybe the government would let them sell something that is dangerous. Why would squid ink be any different than tobacco or high fructose corn syrup of hydrogenated oils or farm-raised Asian shrimp?
Regardless I threw caution to the wind and took a bite. Jinkies! Alright, folks, you haven’t lived till you have tried squid ink. Our whole lives we’ve been taught that there are two things that are edible, animals and plants. Ink is neither. Sure it is an animal-product not unlike blood or milk. But blood and milk are different; they are life-bloods. One figuratively the other literally. Ink is just something animals use for self-defense, like nunchucks. It doesn’t feed it’s young or transport oxygen to various organs.
It’s organic but neither animal nor vegetable. And as if you needed anymore proof that we are supposed to eat animals this one comes with its own sauce. Squid has built-in gravy.
The flavor was so rich, so earthy, so savory. I have long known the Japanese term Umami (believed to be one of the basic tastes sensed by the human tongue). I always thought I understood it but I didn’t. Now, now I do. Now I get it. I grok its fullness.
So what did it taste like? In a word, Inky.