Cocktails come in all colors these days, from grenadine pink and beet juice red to the delicate lavender of crème de violette, Chartreuse green and whiskey’s burnished, oaky tones. But black? I hadn’t even considered that one until I stopped by Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar on the Country Club Plaza, where lead bartender Kenny Cohrs slid his From the Deep across the gleaming white bar.
The combination of tequila, lemon juice, agave syrup and egg white was familiar, but not the opaque, inky color imparted by Cohrs’ now not-so-secret ingredient: squid ink.
The effect was startling, at least until I remembered that Jax is all about sustainability. That ethos extends to putting every usable scrap of seafood to delicious use, Cohrs says, including the ink cephalopods such as squid squirt into the water as a sort of escape mechanism.
Spanish and Italian chefs have long collected squid ink and used it in pasta, risotto and other dishes. Jax does the same, and when Cohrs came across it one day, he immediately recognized its cocktail potential.
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“You come up with a lot of cool, unique things by rummaging through the kitchen,” he says. “Squid ink was readily available, so why not use it?”
Jax’s kitchen reduces the ink to a thick paste, and Cohrs snapped the lid off the plastic container to let me take a look. It was gleaming and unctuous, with a clean aroma that was more ocean than fish.
“It’s like when you’re driving along the coast, and you park your car, get out and smell the sea air,” says Cohrs, who thins the paste with water, salt and agave syrup to make a more mixable tincture.
Similarly, squid ink in no way makes Cohrs’ cocktail taste fishy. Instead, it imparts a salinity that’s completely in step with the current taste for savory drinks. Bartenders in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere seem to like pairing squid ink with vodka, but Cohrs went instead with tequila. He chose Tequila Ocho Plata, an unaged single estate tequila with earthy spice and roasted agave flavors. Lemon juice brightens the mix, a bit more agave adds vegetal sweetness. And a single egg white creates a charcoal-hued, frothy layer over it all.
“When I put it all together, it really seemed to work flavor-wise,” says Cohrs, who is also a partner in beverage consulting company Liquid Minded Concepts. “The saltiness, and that textural creaminess from the squid ink concoction, it all comes together.”
From the Deep
This recipe may remind you of a margarita, but the squid ink lends a saline freshness that is as memorable as the drink’s black color, says Kenny Cohrs, lead bartender of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar.
Makes 1 drink
1/4 ounce squid ink tincture (see note)
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce agave syrup
1-1/2 ounces Tequila Ocho Plata
1 egg white
lemon peel cut in a wide swath, for garnish
Combine squid ink tincture, lemon juice, agave syrup, tequila and egg white in a cocktail shaker; fill part way with ice. Shake until cold. Strain cocktail into a fresh cocktail shaker. Shake again, this time without ice (a process Cohrs calls reverse shaking and that he says makes the egg white foamier). Strain into a martini glass. Twist the swath over the cocktail and place on the edge of the glass as a garnish.
Note: Cohrs gets his squid ink paste from the Jax kitchen, and then dilutes one part paste with four parts water. He then adds a dash of salt and a bit of agave syrup to create his tincture. You can purchase squid ink paste at Amazon.com (save the ink if you’re cleaning whole squid) and experiment to find your own preferred balance of saline sweetness.