A Hamburger Today
Brookline, MA: Black Pasta, Squid-ink Linguine, at The Daily Catch
Squid, and squid ink in particular, is something I've started eating only recently—one of those things that always skeeved me out as a kid that I just never gave a chance until much later on. Now I can't get enough of it, and make a point of ordering murky, black-ink-stained food whenever I see it on a menu. A few of my favorite finds: Steve Johnson's arroz negro with sautéed squid and chorizo at Rendezvous Central Square, a squid ink stew over white rice that I had at New York City's fabulous Basque tapas bar, Txikito, and, as of last week, the Black Pasta at The Daily Catch.
The restaurant is tiny—just 20 seats in the Brookline location—and the menu is focused: Sicilian-style seafood and pastas, most of which are served hot in the pan they're cooked in. Housemade squid-ink linguine is the specialty, and comes in three preparations: aglio olio with chopped calamari, Alfredo, and puttanesca (all $21). Figuring I'd go all out with my newfound taste for leggy ocean plunder, I went with option A. What landed in front of me (in addition to a basket of the best garlic bread I've ever had [$4]) was a 12-inch skillet housing jet-black noodles; stubby hunks of squid seared until golden brown; a thin gloss of olive oil strewn with chopped parsley and enough garlic to evacuate Transylvania; and a surprisingly thick layer of fond.
From a purely pasta-lovers standpoint, these noodles are gorgeous: thick, springy, and ropy. Thanks to the squid ink, they are also positively Medusa-like, which just makes them fun to look at. More significantly, the squid ink is responsible for that unique flavor that food journalists like me try—and usually fail—to describe accurately. My friend, former colleague, and proprietor of Cutty's sandwich shop Charles Kelsey wrote a terrific piece for Gourmet (RIP) in which he digs deep to figure out what makes squid ink so savory/briny/earthy/seafood-y/truffle-y/delicious. As it turns out, squid ink contains high levels of glutamic acid—the same flavor compound that exists in ultra-savory, umami-bomb foods like soy sauce and Parmesan cheese. Well, that explains that.
Almost. As I got to the bottom of the pan, I started scraping at some of that fond with my fork, which naturally added even more meaty flavor to the dish. Maybe it's because I've never seen such a substantial build-up of those brown, savory bits in a pasta or a seafood dish, but I asked the sever about it and she pointed out two important additions that weren't visible to the naked eye: finely minced anchovies and bits of Pecorino, both of which are sautéed in the oil and stained the pan with their own savory boost.