When dusk falls on a balmy summer evening on the Rias Baixas along Spain’s north-west Galician coastline, there’s one thought on many people’s mind: bringing a squid home for dinner. In Galicia, the squid fishing season season starts in July, and finishes in October.
As squidding hour fast approaches just after dusk, locals jostle for space – shoulder to shoulder along harbour walls. From Combarro to Sanxenxo to A Toxa and O Grove, shoals of sardines and horse mackerel lure squid closer to the coastline, where the fishermen’s glow sticks bait them onto the battery of lines dipped in the water.
Soon stuffed calamari, breaded calamari and tiny chipirones squid appear on dining tables. And squid ink is drained into glass jars to be used as a colorant and flavouring. It’s a fiddly business harvesting the squid ink – removing the main sac in the body and the supplementary sacs behind the eyes, and straining the thick, black liquid through a fine mesh cloth.
But in areas which are heavily-populated with squid, the ink flows freely. Locals are adept at extracting it, and squid ink has been used in regional cuisine for centuries: Spain’s famous rice dish, arròs negre, and Italian spaghetti al nero di seppia.
The most common way that squid ink is known is in dried pasta. But dried pasta doesn’t have the glistening black sheen associated with fresh squid ink - nor does it blacken the teeth, and colour the tongue, nor leave inky black smears across the plate.
Squid ink has been used in regional cuisine for centuries: Spain’s famous rice dish, arròs negre, and Italian spaghetti al nero di seppia.
Today fresh squid ink is easier to access, sold in individual sachets or jars. After sterilising, it keeps well - for up to four years - and its flavour is retained. Squid ink is often described as ‘briny’ with ‘flavours of the sea’, but there’s something more than that. Perhaps a black truffle richness, rounded mouth feel and complex, earthy flavour.
Composition analysis of squid ink reveals that it’s rich in glutamic acid – that magic, umami flavour. Although the ‘fifth flavour’ has only been recently identified, the innate urge to cook umami-rich food has shaped the cuisine on Spain’s North West Atlantic Coast though, meaning that the local cuisine is rich with anchovies, tomatoes, and, of course, squid ink. All savoury and all delicious.