Rhode Island won the roll call.
State Democratic Party Chairman Joseph McNamara highlighted the state’s official appetizer during the roll call of the largely virtual Democratic National Convention Tuesday. McNamara stood on Oakland Beach in Warwick behind Iggy’s Boardwalk alongside John Bordieri, the executive chef of the Rhode Island seafood mainstay, holding a platter laden with Rhode Island-style calamari — a mix of battered-and-fried squid, sliced banana peppers, and olive oil dressing.
“Rhode Island, the Ocean State, where our restaurant and fishing industry have been decimated by this pandemic, are lucky to have a Governor, Gina Raimondo, whose program lets our fishermen sell their catches directly to the public, and our state appetizer, calamari, is available in all 50 states,” McNamara said.
“The Calamari Comeback State of Rhode Island casts one vote for Bernie Sanders and 34 votes for the next president, Joe Biden,” he added.
McNamara, a state representative, got calamari designated as the state appetizer back in 2014 as a way to promote Rhode Island’s prolific squid fishing fleet, the largest on the East Coast. He represented the Rhode Island delegation to the Democratic National Convention when the Democratic Party formally nominated Biden on Tuesday, the convention’s second night. Rather than a traditional in-person roll call, party members cast their votes via short video clips.
All 50 states, Washington, D.C., and several territories participated, with party figures like D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg joining small business owners and activists to say a few words about their states before casting their votes.
But Rhode Island’s focus on calamari lit up social media on Tuesday, and #calamari and “Rhode Island” quickly trended on Twitter. Let’s just say there was a lot of delighted confusion over the “calamari comeback” video.
Is that dude holding calamari???— Sam Stein (@samstein) August 19, 2020
Sure! Here are some recipes. Fried Rhode Island calamari is usually served with banana peppers and can be quite spicy.
The Town Dock, a seafood wholesaler in Narragansett, has three calamari recipes on its website: Fried Calamari, Garlic Sautéed Calamari, and Chargrilled Whole Squid with Chili & Mint. Check them out.
Jasper White of The Summer Shack says Rhode Island-style calamari is spicy and greasy, and he makes his with hot cherry peppers. “Look for medium-size fresh or frozen squid (about eight to a pound) for frying.” Here’s his recipe.
Guy Fieri uses pepperoncini and cayenne for the spice, and serves it in a toasted bread bowl. Sounds weird.
In an interview, McNamara said squid represent an important part of the state’s economy. He said Rhode Island landed about $60 million worth of squid last year, leading the nation.
Squid are part of a fisheries and seafood sector that accounted for 4,381 jobs and $538.3 million in Rhode Island in 2016, according to a Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation report. And it’s an “extremely sustainable” product because squid reproduce every 90 days, he said.
“What most people don’t realize is that squid migration on the East Coast is from North Carolina to Nova Scotia, and we are strategically located in the middle of it,” McNamara said. “Only industry professionals realize that due to the salinity of the water, our squid is sweeter and more tender than any other squid in the world.”
Wholesalers in California have squid shipped in from Rhode Island, he said. “It’s a white linen appetizer, not like pigs in a blanket or potato skins,” he said. “It’s a delicacy.”
But the coronavirus pandemic decimated the state’s fishing and restaurant industries, McNamara said.
So Raimondo, the Democratic governor, instituted a new program, allowing fishermen to sell directly to consumers, and they were helped by an app that lets fisherman tell customers what they are bringing back to the dock, he said.
“We thought it was a comeback for our industry and symbolizes what our state can do,” McNamara said. And that gave rise to the phrase: “The Calamari Comeback State of Rhode Island.”
McNamara said the 30-second spot was shot on Friday at Oakland Beach, behind Iggy’s, and it took about 15 to 20 takes to get it down to the right length.
He joked that he and the others involved didn’t eat any of the calamari until after the filming was complete.
“So there was no squid pro quo,” he said.