The sepia is a Cefalopode, meaning “made by head (cefalo) and feet (pode). Thus it belongs to the same family of calamar and octopus. The leg, or tentacles are eight and they are provided of suckers. The mouth, which is a beak with the same shape of predator birds, is among the legs. Two big watery eyes pop out just above the legs. The sepia is a predator too. It is gluttonous of crustaceans which it chaises and holds with its powerful tentacles. Then it beats into the shell with its strong beak, breaks it and socks the flesh of the alive animal. That’s why its meat is so tasty. Cefalopodes are regarded among the most smartest animals: experiments with octopus, in order to demonstrate their intelligence, are famous.
The sepia has another arm, this one is a “defensive” arm: a bag with black ink. When the animal feels in danger, it pushes out some of the ink through a tube – behind the eyes – connected with the final part of the ink bag inside the body sac. In this way, the water becomes dark and cloudy and it can hide and run away un-disturbed.
The body sac is thicker than the body of the calamar: for this reason people often think that the meat is taught. There is saying in Italy: the sepia must be cooked 5 minutes, otherwise 5 hours. So: someone who wants to enterprise the cooking of the sepia must be very quick (searing it on high heat) or having a lot of time to stew it slowly.
Recently dishes made black with its ink are getting famous al over the world. Supermarkets sell packages of black ink of sepia. So someone can easily find it on the refrigerated shelves of the fish department.
I do not like it. I mean: I do not like the black ink of sepia sold into plastic packaging. It is fishy: tastes like bad cod fish. Fresh black ink, as well fresh sepia, is sweet.
It happens to me to make jokes to people who would not eat a black dish for the simply reason that it is black. I replay that black does not mean poisonous. So, in complete secret, and ensuring they trust me anyway, I ask them to blind their eyes with a foulard. Then I give them a morsel of pasta dressed with a super black sauce. I wait for their comment, which usually is: .. MMM… how sweet… not a sweet…. Seems sea…. Sweet sea…. What is this? – Then I give them a mirror and with real surprise they discover a mouth coloured by a black lipstick and a line of black teeth too. And they look at me with a question mark in their eyes. Anyway they have to admit that the flavour is superb.
Unfortunately you cannot get this result with the black ink from supermarket: the sweetness is exclusively inside the dirty body of a just caught sepia. The only thing to do is to buy it from a trustable fisherman.
Then the hard, but also fun part is to clean it. I could tell a story of a girl student who had never seen a sepia before, to whom I taught how to clean it and she felt in love with sepia: she actually exploded in the class with these words: I HAVE NEVER DONE SOMETHING MORE FUN! I WANT TO DO THIS EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE! That student is Susan Dillingham and she owns now a catering service in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Ok, how to clean a sepia properly? Above all, put on surgeon gloves.
Rinse it first, as the ink could have made dirty and even more slimy all of it.
Place it on your hand, eyes side down – on the hand palm -, legs downward.
Point the scissors at the side of the body sac and cut slowly toward the end of it, at the same time opening the body. The black ink bag is at the very bottom, into the final part of the body sac and its thin tube runs inside the viscera toward the channel that communicates with the outside. You must be very careful, as the membrane of the ink bag is thin and delicate and it may break easily. Place the sepia on the board. With two fingers take the end of the little tube and start to pull it upward, at the same time scraping gently the viscera and the dirt stuck to it with the points of the scissors.
Continue to pull and scrape and be even more delicate as you get at the ink sac, especially if it is big and full. Pull it, holding its tube, even more slowly, still scraping the viscera.
Once the ink bag is out, the most part is done. Keep it apart in a small container into the refrigerator and finish to clean the sepia.
At this point take off the big white bone by pressing the base of the body sac vertical against the board and pulling down the sac itself.
Hold the body with one hand and the head with tentacles with the other hand. Divide the two part. You will notice that the head would come with the viscera attached on it.
At this point the body sac is practically ready: take off the few residues left on it and, if the sepia is really big, pull away the skin.
Rinse the body sac: if you have sea water is better. Leave it into a colander to drain.
Start to work on head and tentacles: insert your thumb into the large channel – which was connected with the ink tube – and place the index below the viscera, including in this way all the dirt between your fingers. Connect the tips of your fingers and pull off all what is in the middle. Rinse carefully and abundantly.
With the scissors, point at the base of one eye and pierce. Make the hole large to the point that, pressing down the eye, it would pop out.
With the two thumbs, press at the base of the mouth and pull off the mouth. You will notice that the beak is included in a spherical organ.
Rinse the head and tentacles.
At this point the sepia is cleaned: you have it ready to be cut and cooked in any way you want. HAVE FUN!