Get to know one of America's most beloved seafoods, squid, with Robert DiGregorgio, FultonFishMarket.com’s Head of Quality Control.
It used to be that squid, like several other things, had a very small market in the United States, limited mainly to Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. But thanks to some clever marketing, “calamari” is now found everywhere. Calamari, especially fried calamari, is now considered an American staple, found on menus everywhere. And it should be. We have some of the best squid in the world right off our shores.
Now, a little description for those unfamiliar with our beautiful squid. We’re speaking of Loligo pealeii, the so called long fin squid. Found off the East Coast of the U.S., it has 10 arms - two very long ones to snag prey and eight shorter ones. It can flash colors and change patterns to confuse predators and attract a mate, and is fished commercially from Georges Bank to Cape Hatteras.
Fishing boats from all over the world used to come here to fish, some just for the squid. Foreign vessels used to sit 12 miles off our shore and fish with impunity. They were practically vacuuming the ocean floor and our fishermen were getting crushed. Factory ships from Russia, Poland, Spain, Japan and beyond used to process and freeze tons and tons of our fish and squid and our fishermen, with only a 12 mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) couldn’t compete. I used to literally sit on the beach and watch this travesty. One of our natural resources was being plundered by foreign nations right before our eyes! Thankfully, at last, there was an outcry and the fishing industry started to pressure elected officials to do something. Finally, in 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act — MSA for short — was passed. It pushed our exclusive fishing zone to 200 miles, and our fishermen could breathe again. However, a lot of damage had been done to fish stocks and to fish Americans considered popular, such as haddock and flounder, would need years to recover.
Now, we knew there was a lot of squid out there. We knew foreign boats were scooping up tons of it and bringing it home. We needed to shift from fishing the already overfished species and switch to something there was plenty of. Something unexploited and underused by Americans. Something sustainable.
The Cornell Cooperative Extension Division, whose mission it is to improve New York State communities through partnerships in agriculture and food systems, encouraged fishermen to start fishing for different things. The Long Island Fisheries Assistance Program got on board. Soon afterward so did the Empire State Development Program, and last but not least, The Economic Development Administration of the Federal Commerce Department. And since it was now a federal push, the movement went national. Federally issued memos encouraged chefs to put squid on their menus, to cook it different ways, to get the word out about it. Skeptical restauranteurs weren’t sure how well this relatively unknown item would be received, so they began on a trial run to offer it in smaller portions as an appetizer. And, in a stroke of marketing genius, the CCED as well as other agencies encouraged the restaurants to not call it “squid” , but rather call it by its Italian name, “calamari”. Definitely more enticing. And a star was born! The rest is squid history.
Some of the great things about eating squid is it has no bones, has a good, firm texture, cooks fast, and is very versatile. Squid soaks up the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in or with. Oops, I meant calamari!