What is it?
The scarily black, glossy ink of the cuttlefish or squid, known in Italian as ''nero di seppia'' and in Spanish as ''tinta de calamar''. Chefs call it ''black gold'' and use it in rice and pasta dishes for its seafood flavour and intense colour.
Where is it?
Inspired by a recent trip to Calabria, Nino Zoccali, chef/owner of Pendolino in the Strand Arcade, now makes his own bucatini and sauces it with cuttlefish ink cooked down with onions and tomato, topped with a squid ''crumble'' and dried Calabrese chilli. ''It's very striking against a white plate,'' he says. ''A lot of people are wary of it because it looks so black - and if you're a messy eater, you really need a bib.''
Equally dramatic is chef Niko Pizzimenti's squid ink tagliatelle with ventresca (poached tuna belly), and a yellow tomato salsa at Popolo in Rushcutter's Bay. And the so-named ''squid and ink'' of calamari fritti and squid ink mayonnaise at the new Tappo Osteria in Pyrmont has been a hit from day one, reports co-owner Peter Zuzza. ''We save all the ink sacs from the cuttlefish, and use them for the mayonnaise,'' he says. ''Some people are worried about staining their teeth black, but it's nothing a little red wine won't fix.''
At Guy Grossi's Merchant Osteria Veneta, head chef Daniel Airo-Farulla swears by the black-as-spades risotto moro. ''Cuttlefish ink is such a Venetian flavour,'' he says. ''Some people are scared of it, until they take their first mouthful.''
At the Town Hall Hotel in Fitzroy, chef Harry Lilai sautees calamari with radicchio, chicory and cherry tomatoes, and serves it on a sauce of black squid ink. ''Visually, it's fantastic,'' he says. It's also good use of an otherwise wasted resource. ''I collect all the ink sacs from the squid we clean, and freeze them until I need them.''
In Geelong, popular tapas bar Black Bull serves seared scallops with pumpkin puree and a black squid ink vinaigrette. ''It's one of our best sellers,'' chef and owner Daniel Brehaut says. ''The scallops are the hero of the dish, but the black squid ink gives them contrast and colour.''
Why do I care?
Because it adds depth and drama to risotto, pasta, paella, butter and mayonnaise.
Can I do this at home?
You can source your ink from fresh squid (messy, but satisfying) or buy four-gram sachets for about $1.50 from selected food stores, especially Italian and Spanish ones.
The Essential Ingredient (Rozelle), Sydney Seafood Market (Pyrmont) and good supermarkets, fishmongers and food stores.
Pendolino, Level 2, The Strand Arcade, 412 George Street, Sydney, 9231 6117
Tappo Osteria, 1/24 Bunn Street, Pyrmont, 9552 1509
Popolo, 50 McLachlan Avenue, Rushcutters Bay, 9361 6641
Enoteca Sileno (Carlton North) and The Essential Ingredient (Prahran).
Merchant Osteria Veneta, Rialto, 495 Collins Street, city, 9614 7688
The Town Hall Hotel, 166 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, 9416 5055
Black Bull Tapas Bar, 48 Moorabool Street, Geelong, 5229 6100
Make your own aioli, or use a good store-bought version.
750g cleaned squid tubes and tentacles
1 tsp smoked paprika
Sea salt and black pepper
100g corn flour or rice flour
Vegetable oil for frying
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 tsp (4g) black squid ink
150g aioli or egg mayonnaise
1 lemon, quartered
1. Cut the squid tubes into one-centimetre rings and each cluster of tentacles in two, and pat dry. Mix the paprika, sea salt, pepper and flour together. Heat oil in a wok or saucepan until a little cube of bread browns nicely within 30 seconds.
2. Working in batches, coat the squid in flour, shake off excess and fry for about 45 seconds, tossing well, until golden. Fry the red chilli until crisp, and drain.
3. Whisk black squid ink into the aioli, and swirl a spoonful on each plate. Top with fried squid, chilli and lemon wedges.
Serves 4 as a small course