2013-03-07 / News

Got squid? Bill would make calamari state’s official appetizer

Co-sponsor Deb Ruggiero says it could boost tourism

Chopmist Charlie’s presents a tasty plate of calamari Wednesday. The restaurant serves the appetizer Rhode Island-style: lightly breaded and fried, then tossed with hot peppers and olives. 
PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH Chopmist Charlie’s presents a tasty plate of calamari Wednesday. The restaurant serves the appetizer Rhode Island-style: lightly breaded and fried, then tossed with hot peppers and olives. PHOTO BY JEFF MCDONOUGH A number of contentious bills have been introduced by the General Assembly this session, and the State House has been divided on momentous topics such as legalizing marijuana and allowing same-sex marriage. But not every bill has to be as solemn – one state lawmaker has introduced a bill unlike most others.

Rep. Joseph McNamara of Cranston has presented legislation in the state House of Representatives that would make calamari – specifically the Rhode Island preparation of the dish – the official state appetizer. The Ocean State style of calamari is created by lightly breading and frying the calamari, and then tossing it with hot peppers and olives.

McNamara justified the introduction of what some see as lighthearted legislation by saying that the state gets too much negative publicity. He says it’s time to start promoting the things that are good about the state.

“While squid may make some people squeamish, we should be boasting about the fact that Rhode Island is the East Coast capital of squid, and that our style of preparing it is being used by chefs across the country,” McNamara said. “For those who might say this is frivolous, I can only say that it’s important for our state to boast about its strengths and to market its many positives.”

Rep. Deb Ruggiero of Jamestown is a co-sponsor of McNamara’s bill. She said the legislation could help put the Ocean State on the map. She also believes it can help Rhode Island fishermen and the state’s restaurant business, as well as promote tourism. She pointed to the fact there has already been a lot of national press related to the legislation.

“Anything that helps the economy, business, economic development, tourism and our local fishermen is good,” said Ruggiero. “This is big for the local fishing industry. Squid is the largest commercial catch in Rhode Island. The fishermen are happy about it, and it’s kind of cool to have Rhode Island as the squid capital of the Northeast.”

Ruggiero said she was hesitant about supporting the bill at first, but after thinking about it, she thought it would be a good idea.

“Calamari could be to Rhode Island what lobster is to Maine,” she said. “We need some good news.”

According to McNamara, Rhode Island accounts for more than 54 percent of squid landings in the Northeast. Approximately 7 millions pounds of squid was caught in Rhode Island last year.

John Recca, owner of Jamestown Fish, considers the bill a bit trivial considering the poor state of the economy and the adverse political climate. However, while Recca does question if lawmakers should be spending time on appetizers, he does find some merit in the legislation.

“I do agree, as the bill states, that the fishing, hospitality and tourism industries are crucial to the economy of the state,” Recca said. “Rhode Island has some of the finest restaurants in the country.”

Based on those factors, Recca said that he thinks the effort to elevate the squid, and in particular the dish calamari, to state status is a good one for the state. He said it also benefits the squid fleet and fishing industry as a whole.

Chuck Masso, owner of Chopmist Charlie’s, said that he thinks the legislation is a good idea. Masso said the majority of restaurants he dines at while in Florida feature Point Judith or Galilee calamari on their menus.

“The Rhode Island product is making its way all the way down there into all the restaurants that I frequent,” he said. “It’s the number one selling appetizer on our menu on top of that. I’m all for it.”

Chopmist Charlie’s uses a classic Rhode Island preparation for the calamari it serves. Only calamari rings – no tentacles – are used. They are hand-cut, lightly coated with flour, and then fried for about 25 seconds. Then they are tossed with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, banana peppers, olives and fresh parsley.

On occasion, calamari is also available as an entree at Chopmist Charlie’s. Recipes have included calamari fra diavolo with a spicy marinara sauce over pasta, or calamari with seafood stuffing. All of the restaurant’s squid is purchased at Town Dock in Narragansett, the leading purveyor of premium calamari in the United States.

Matthew MacCartney favors a different preparation of calamari. MacCartney is the head chef at Jamestown Fish, a restaurant owned by Recca that was named by R.I. Monthly as the state’s best seafood restaurant last year. While working at Cibreo in Florence, Italy, he fell in love with a dish that the restaurant prepared called calamair in zimino. It is a rustic stew of red wine-braised calamari and swiss chard, with tomato and hot peppers.

“You can prepare calamari two ways, quick cook or long cook,” MacCartney said. “It is certainly the long version. Two hours and the flavor is deep and rich. I serve it with farro drizzled with good olive oil. It is very unique and rarely seen on menus. Folks that have tried it, love it.”

MacCartney confirmed that all of the squid he uses at Fish is also locally caught.

The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.

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