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Product Spotlight: Calamari
Squid product forms provide myriad menu options
By April Forristall
November 01, 2007
The traditional image of calamari is a plate piled high with
fried rings and accompanied by a marinara dipping sauce. Since
first appearing on menus nationwide in the 1970s, calamari can
be found at casual-dining chains to white tablecloths. But in
recent years, calamari, the Italian term for squid, has shed
its breaded identity and now applies to
the mollusk prepared
in a variety of ways.
"Calamari is almost its own brand, in the sense of the
name," says Ruth Levy, COO for Stavis Seafoods in Boston. "It
can go anywhere. It's ubiquitous."
Stavis carries 850 frozen and 150 fresh squid products. Levy
and Stavis CEO Richard Stavis say calamari is a very
significant part of their business.
"It is the single-largest item in terms of pounds, and a
continuously growing segment of our business," says Stavis,
adding that the product has seen phenomenal growth for many
Part of the reason for calamari's steady growth is that it
is a low-cost item that pays a big dividend. "There is no
product loss. It is 100 percent usable," says Levy.
Chef Chris Gilbert of Abalonetti Seafood Trattoria in
Monterey, Calif., agrees.
"We use 80 percent of the squid. Only the eyes and the ink
get thrown out," he says. Calamari's plate cost is also very
appealing to chefs.
"Fried calamari as an appetizer per-pound price is less than
one-third the price of a fried clam appetizer, which is often
an alternative [for calamari]," explains Stavis, adding that
the same price comparison applies to a scallop appetizer.
When compared with labor costs, one calamari appetizer costs
about 20 cents. "It's not something that takes a lot of time or
effort and it tastes great,"
However, since the fried calamari appetizer is so popular,
restaurants tend to overlook other squid preparations.
According to Stavis, chefs are astonished to discover the
flexibility of calamari. Only in recent years have more
restaurants begun to menu it as a center-of-the-plate
"First operators wanted it whole, then it was tubes and
tentacles, then just tubes, then rings only or rings and
tentacles, and now it's everything," says Levy.
Calamari's varying product forms make it easy to menu.
"There are so many things you can do with [calamari]. It's
very versatile, you can add it to any plate," says Gilbert.
"It's definitely underappreciated for something that can be
used so easily. "
Restaurants are using squid steaks grilled on salads, and
fried squid strips similar to chicken fingers. "More and more
operators are looking at additional forms and products for
grilling and sautéing," says Stavis.
At Abalonetti, Gilbert has no problem finding new ways to
serve calamari. The restaurant purchases about 700 pounds of
calamari bi-weekly and devotes an entire menu section to
The most popular selection at Abalonetti is its French fried
calamari cutlets served with Parmesan and mozzarella cheese
over eggplant topped with a marinara sauce, but the fried
appetizer is always a hit. If he has time, Gilbert will greet
customers with samples and urge them to try
"People can be hesitant try to it because they never have
before, or because of the way it looks," he explains. "But once
they do, most people love it."
"When I look at restaurants, close to three-quarters of them
have a calamari [menu item]," says Stavis. "It's even
transcended seafood restaurants, that's the really amazing
Not bad for a species that got its start in bait shops.
Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at