So Sorry, Calamari

We do apologize. It’s just that you’re so delicious, nutritious, and at home in so many dishes from cultures all across the world. Right now is a great time to be a calamari fan, but a really bad time to be a calamari. Over the last three years, California fishermen have caught record numbers of squid. In fact, and this is pretty incredible given the fertile oceans of California, squid was the state’s largest fishery in 2011, both by weight (133,642 tons) and value ($68.5 million). Not salmon, not sardines, not halibut, not cod, not tuna. But let’s not kid about squid, being that they are the number one crop produced by California’s oceans in recent years.

Squid have historically been primarily caught in the southern and Monterey Bay regions of California, but recently fishermen have been catching them even farther north off the coast of San Mateo County. Fishing for squid is nothing like the typical wake up early and drop a line in the water technique. Because squid are attracted to light, most squid fishing takes place at night. Fishermen shine powerful lanterns into the ocean, and the light at the end of the tunnel for the squid is actually a net that hauls them aboard the fishing boat. From the boat, the squid are slid into restaurants and grocery stores not only in California, but also across the rest of the country and abroad to countries that love calamari like China and Japan. Scientists know surprisingly little about squid and their behavior, but they surmise that the large numbers of squid are due to colder than usual water because of La Niña weather patterns. This colder water supports larger numbers of plankton and krill, dietary staples of young squid.

From a culinary perspective, calamari is a great ingredient and lends itself well to many different culinary preparations. The word itself comes from the Italian word for squid, but cultures all across the world have their own unique recipes and preparations for squid. Some use the tentacles, others stuff the mantle (body) or cut it into strips or rings, and still others use the squid’s ink. The most common preparation here in America is battered and deep-fried as an appetizer. Usually this takes the form of strips or tubes and tentacles, and often comes with dipping sauces like tartar sauce or various forms of sweet and spicy sauces. If you are living gluten-free, know that calamari tastes great grilled as well. Although harder to cook well when being grilled, it is a totally viable option for culinary preparation. There are also ways to make gluten-free batters so that you can enjoy gluten-free and battered deep-fried calamari. There are many gluten-free flours available that work, and you could even smash up some Rice Chex breakfast cereal and season with salt and pepper. Just because you’re living gluten-free doesn’t mean you can’t have battered and deep-fried calamari. Most restaurants will not offer this alternative, but it really isn’t that difficult to do at home.

Lastly, and this might be the best news of all, calamari is pretty healthy. Simply steamed or boiled in its raw form, calamari is about ¾ protein, and is low in both fat and carbohydrates. Now of course, no one really eats raw boiled calamari, and when you deep fry or prepare it some other way, these preparations will obviously add calories. But when you start with an ingredient that is healthy, you’re at least ahead of the curve as far as creating something delicious and at least halfway nutritious. A small amount of gluten-free breadcrumbs or gluten-free batter and healthy frying oil will produce a dish that when eaten in moderation is perfectly healthy. So calamari, delicious, usually nutritious, and right now widely and cheaply available, is a great ingredient to add to your diet if it isn’t there already. And if you think the only way to prepare it is to deep-fry and batter it, you better think again. Grilling, stewing, or braising calamari can all lead to delectable dishes. And if you do want to batter and deep-fry it and are living gluten-free, know that many viable gluten-free batter alternatives do exist.

Article Courtesy:  Andrew Steingrube

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