In addition to contributing a dark color and salty component to cocktails, squid ink has become a conversation starter behind the bar. Courageous mixologists are using squid ink in a variety of drinks that traditionally incorporate savory ingredients, such as Martinis and Bloody Marys, as well as in inventive new creations that boast sea-worthy garnishes. Squid ink is a polarizing product that consumers either love or hate, so it won’t likely go mainstream any time soon. But that isn’t stopping some creative mixologists from putting a taste of the ocean into their cocktails.
“Squid ink is messy, so you really have to be careful with it,” says Amin Seddiq, bar manager at Latin American restaurant Del Campo in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Chinatown. Squid ink stains clothes, skin and surfaces quickly and can be hard to remove, but Seddiq says that in the end, the risk is worth the reward. “As an ingredient, it adds a lot of saltiness and flavor to neutral spirits like Pisco and vodka, which allow its unique characteristics to come through,” he explains. “Squid ink can’t be used in everything, but it’s something new that appeals to our guests. They just aren’t used to seeing a black cocktail.”
Seddiq uses squid ink in a Bloody Mary–style drink that he calls the Pantera ($12). First he heats the ink in a pan with a bit of lemon juice to thin it out and enhance the flavor. Then he mixes Soldeica Pisco Acholado, house-made applewood-smoked tomato juice, house-made smoked Bloody Mary mix, a bar spoon of squid ink, fresh lemon juice, fish stock, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and grilled rocoto chili pepper, garnished with a piece of grilled octopus. The cocktail is available during Del Campo’s brunch service on Saturdays and has become popular with guests.
In nearby Alexandria, Virginia, mixologist Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve and Bar PX, adds squid ink to vermouth for an updated take on a classic cocktail. His Sunshine’s Black Martini ($13.50 at both venues) comprises squid ink–infused Dolin Dry vermouth and locally produced Cirrus vodka, garnished with Niçoise olives. Thrasher says squid ink gives cocktails a maritime quality. “It adds an aspect of the ocean,” Thrasher explains. “I’ve used it with vodka and gin, and most recently, I’ve mixed it with black olives to make the olive brine even darker.”
A little squid ink goes a long way. Andrew Stofko, the bar manager at Victor Tangos in Dallas, dips just the tip of a bar spoon into straight squid ink and mixes one or two drops into his Seppuku Reale cocktail ($11). The drink contains Gran Classico bitter liqueur, Montenegro amaro, a cordial made in-house with Japanese furikake seasoning, fresh lemon juice and a couple dashes of squid ink, garnished with a cut square of nori seaweed. “The inspiration behind the squid ink in this cocktail is purely aesthetic,” Stofko explains. “I use it as food coloring to retain a cohesive theme for the drink and to create a wow factor. People eat with their eyes before their mouths, and the adventurous souls who see such an out-of-left-field ingredient on a drink menu just have to try it.”
Stofko also touts the health benefits of squid ink, which is rich in antioxidants and iron, though he admits it’s not a practical bar ingredient for the long-term due to its cost and short shelf life. The Seppuku Reale cocktail is his first experiment with squid ink at the bar. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the strong reception that came with this drink, so we’ve ridden that wave,” Stofko adds. “My goal is to make drinks that are fun and occasionally geeky. The lines between the kitchen and the bar continue to blur, and squid ink is a good example of that trend.”