On Tuesday, a plate of calamari nearly stole the show during the Democratic National Convention.
When Joseph McNamara, Rhode Island's Democratic Party Chairman, announced his state's presidential delegate votes during a video message filmed on Oakland Beach in Warwick, he was accompanied by John Bordieri, the executive chef at Iggy's Boardwalk. And the chef wasn't empty handed — Bordieri had a heaping plate of fried calamari in his hands.
During his brief message, McNamara called Rhode Island "the calamari comeback state" and discussed the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on its seafood industry. As it turns out, the fried squid dish became Rhode Island's official state appetizer in 2014, and the state has had quite the booming squid industry for years.
The unexpected moment instantly went viral on Twitter. "Rhode Island" and "calamari" were trending through Wednesday afternoon.
After ogling the giant dish, many Twitter users had a sudden craving for seafood.
Some had an appetite for more and wished that other states had highlighted their local delicacies.
Overall, many people applauded the state's not-so-subtle method for advertising its official appetizer.
Still, not everyone was shouting calamari's praises.
But even those who have mixed feelings about the dish would likely agree with this relatable musing from one Twitter user who summed up the moment pretty well.
After all this talk about calamari, one might be wondering: "What goes into a great plate of classic calamari?"
TODAY Food consulted several chefs to find out how to prepare a tantalizing calamari dish. Here's what they had to say.
- It's all about the prep work. "For my ultimate calamari, I create a marinade with lemon zest, rosemary and olive oil. I then soak it in buttermilk to make it more tender and provide a coat so the seasoned flour can stick and become crispy when frying," Max Hardy, owner and head chef of Coop Detroit said.
- Pay attention while cooking it. "Calamari cooks very quickly, and if it’s overcooked, that’s when you get that rubbery texture no one likes. But cook it quickly and you get tender calamari, crunchy breading, and a little heat from the garlic and peppers. There’s really nothing else like it, and that’s why it’s been so popular for so long," Justin Hamilton, a chef at The Town Dock in Narragansett, said.
- Use fresh ingredients. "Frozen calamari will result in a different texture that can be rubbery and won’t be as plump as fresh calamari," Frank Proto, director of culinary operations at the Institute of Culinary Education, said.
Culinary skills may help you prepare a fine plate of calamari, but Rhode Island's seasoned fishermen also deserve some credit.
"Our Ocean State fishermen are what make Rhode Island calamari so unique. Every day, all year long they provide fresh caught selections for our markets and restaurants," Rick Simone, head of Rhode Island's Federal Hill Commerce Association, said.
Chef John Bordieri, who appeared in the now-viral clip, told TODAY he's surprised about the attention that his state's famous dish is now receiving. "We didn't anticipate that it would turn out the way that it did, but we couldn't be happier with the response. We are grateful to have been a part of showcasing calamari for our state," he told TODAY via email.
He also revealed the secret to perfecting a plate of Rhode Island-style calamari.
"The texture and tenderness of the calamari, along with the combination of both the peppers and the sauce, is what makes a great classic fried calamari," he said.
Now that we know Rhode Island wants to be celebrated for fried calamari, it's time to explore more of America's lesser known delicacies.
You might not be surprised to learn the flavor of New York's state muffin (it's apple), but Utah's state snack is a bit perplexing: Jell-O, anyone? New Hampshire's state fruit, the pumpkin, is pretty appropriate considering the state is known for its gorgeous fall season. However, if you're in Oklahoma, be prepared to chow down on the state's official meal which includes barbecue pork, chicken fried steak, fried okra, cornbread, biscuits, grits, sausage and gravy and pecan pie.