Chipirones en su tinta

The English half of the menu reads, "Baby squid in its own ink".

August, 2000, seated at the top floor of the wonderful Botín restaurant in Madrid (according to its own menu-pamphlet, Botín is the oldest continuously operational restaurant in the world; whether or not that's true, the place has wonderful food! :), I ordered this dish on a lark...

I was motivated by a combination of spontaneous adventurousness, a siblingly hankering to mildly gross out my sister (a vegetarian; though after seeing a whole roast suckling pig carried past her, the baby squid thing didn't phase her ;), and the knowledge that I would probably have the most interesting dish among our entire party.

I was right.

Our tour guide had also told us that Chipirones en su tinta was a regional delicacy, and that Botín was probably the best place to get it.

The dish only looked iffy on the menu... the dish itself was marvellously presented, and in retrospect, the sight of a plate full of little roasted squid (sans tentacles), cooked in their own ink, probably would have given me pause no matter how pretty they made it look, but luckily I had already had a few glasses of (excellent) Sangría, and was feeling rather imperturbable.

Let me make it clear: these were whole baby squid, not at all like Calimari. If eating Calimari were like eating onion rings, Chipirones would be like eating the whole onion. Only much tastier. ;)

The squidlets were served with rice and a hard, biscuitlike bread for sopping up the ink, which actually made a wonderful sauce for the squid. Perhaps the ink was prepared with other ingredients, or maybe it was just the way the ink and squid were cooked together, but the ink was fairly thick, sweet, and saucelike, unlike raw squid ink.

The squid themselves proved to be delicious, though I found it prudent to take small bites, and necessary to alternate between bites of squid and rice, because however delicious and roastedly firm the squid were (and despite the incipience of my relatively mild inebriation), they still had a distinct texture, being (or having been) squid, and it took a little while to get used to.

Having, by the end of dinner, drained a half-carafe of Sangría, and leaving nothing on the plate but ink (and still somehow being sober enough to add up the cheque!), I felt that my adventurous impulse had turned into what was possibly the most satisfying meal I'd ever had. Two years later, I still crave it from time to time. Someday, I'm going back... for seconds! :D

If there's a moral to this story (a dubious proposition at best!), it would be Try new things!

Try new things. You may be pleasantly surprised. :)

This is written mostly in response to Crispy Crunchy Goo's writeup, to explain why the sauce is so thick and tasty. I don't promise this will be exactly the same as the dish he tried, as there are many variations of the sauce, some of which contain a high proportion of tomato, others include wine and even leeks and carrots. This particular recipe has been passed down through the generations of a family from the Basque town of Santurtzi and is fairly typical of the area.

MariElvi's Txipirones

Feeds 4 Hungry Horaces. Quantities roughly translated from MariElvi's measurements of 'some', 'a little' and 'until it looks right'.

Ingredients:
1 kg fresh, whole squid (these should include ink sacs, check with your fishmonger)
3 medium onions, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 dried cayenne chillies (optional)
sprig fresh flatleaf parsley (optional)
olive oil
glass of white wine or fish stock
Preparation:
Squid cleaning is a tricky business for the uninitiated, and if it's your first time, have a glass handy should you accidentally tear the ink sacs, to keep loss to a minimum. So, get stuck in and don't be squeamish. First, carefully remove the innards, including the fragile ink-sac and the thin membrane which covers the squid inside and out. Remove the eyes and beak from the head by pulling the beak upwards and the eyes should come out as you do so. If you wish, cut off the tentacles. These can be chopped up, sauteed with onion and used to fill the squid, though my mother-in-law would leave them attached and tuck them back neatly inside the body of the squid after a thorough washing. Dip the squid in flour and fry in fairly hot oil for a few minutes until the flour is golden and the squid turns slightly pink. Set aside.
To make the sauce:
My mother-in-law always says that the most important ingredient is time. Cook the sauce slowly and leave it overnight to mellow and the difference is astounding.

So, first of all, soften the onions in olive oil until almost transparent. Add the pepper and garlic (and if you want a kick to the sauce add the dried chillies at this point) and continue to cook over a gentle heat. Now, add the ink. If you are lucky enough to be using fresh ink, simply pierce the ink sacs wth a needle and drain into a glass with a little water in the bottom. Stir well before pouring onto the onion. If you are using parsley, add it now. Once the onion and pepper mixture is very soft take off the heat and leave to cool slightly before working through a mouli. Please note: do not puree or liquidise, the idea is to create a thick, smooth sauce, leaving any skin or seeds in the mouli. If you blend the sauce both the texture and taste will be the worse for it. The general consensus is to add very little salt at this stage, to avoid the unpleasant discovery that your chipirones have become unbearably salty overnight. The sauce should resemble a good quality passata in texture, and can be thickened, if necessary, by adding very fine breadcrumbs, never with cornflour, or diluted with dry white wine or fish stock.

Put the squid into the sauce and leave overnight for the flavours to infuse. Heat up and test for seasoning just prior to serving. Have plenty of crusty bread on hand to mop the sauce up with. A bottle of Rioja wouldn't go amiss, either.

On Egin!

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