Calamares en Su Tinta (Calamari in Squid Ink Sauce)

Bring a taste of Basque Country home
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Calamari in Squid Ink Recipe
Photo: Jena Schlosseris

There's always that one meal that acts as a gateway dish into the rest of the cuisine. For Amos Watts, chef of Corrida in Boulder, Colorado, it was calamares en su tinta, or calamari cooked in its own ink, that opened the door to Spanish fare. After spending months in Basque Country, Watts returned home to develop his own version of the dish, bolstering the brininess of the ink with black garlic and tomatoes.

"I like this dish, because it really surprises people with the taste and familiarity of it all. You don’t expect that tomato and pepper flavor from the color of the squid ink," he says. If you're cleaning your own squid, you can reserve the ink sacs to use for the sauce. Otherwise, you can find jars and packets of prepared ink in specialty grocery stores or online.

Learn more about Basque cuisine and round out your meal with this Basque cheesecake.

Calamares en Su Tinta (Calamari in Squid Ink Sauce)

Recipe adapted from Amos Watts, Corrida, Boulder, CO

Yield: 2 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus draining time

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus draining time


For the Calamari:

10 ounces raw calamari, a combination of the tentacles and tubes, cut into rings

2 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup sugar

1 lemon, halved

3 whole fresh bay leaves

Extra-virgin olive oil

For the Squid Ink Sauce:

2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 green bell pepper, small diced, plus more for garnish

1 red bell pepper, small diced, plus more for garnish

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt, to taste

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

1 cup clam juice (or chicken or vegetable stock)

¼ cup dry white wine

4 peeled black garlic cloves

2 tablespoons squid ink

Lemon juice, to taste

4 tablespoons butter

Diced tomatoes, for garnish

Herbs mint or purslane, for garnish


1. Make the calamari: Place the calamari in a colander and rinse thoroughly. Toss the squid with the salt and sugar, and let sit for 15 minutes before rinsing again.

2. In a saucepot, combine the calamari, one lemon half and the bay leaves, and add enough olive oil to cover. Place on medium heat until the calamari is just barely cooked, approximately 7 to 8 minutes (it will cook further in the sauce).

3. Strain the calamari and transfer to a plate or nonreactive pan and squeeze the remaining lemon half over the top (reserve the olive oil for another use). Let cool and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

4. Make the sauce: Sweat the onions, garlic and bell peppers in olive oil (season to taste with salt) until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the paprika and cook for 30 seconds.

5. Add the tomatoes, clam juice and white wine, and bring to a boil; cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the black garlic and squid ink, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are very soft.

6. Transfer the sauce to a blender and purée until very smooth. (For a smoother sauce, you can pass it through a fine-mesh strainer. 

7. To serve, heat the sauce and calamari together in a pan on medium heat until warmed through. Add the butter and lemon juice, and continue to cook until the butter is emulsified. Garnish with more diced bell peppers, diced tomatoes and herbs.

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