Why Squid Is the Kale of the Sea

From the Hooter’s in Anaheim, California, to the Le Bernardin in Midtown — squid in the form of calamari can be found on menus across America. That’s good news since squid from the Atlantic is some of the most sustainable seafood out there.

“I like to think of squid as the kale of the sea,” said Brian Halweil, the editor of Edible East End and the publisher of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. “It’s hardy, it’s economical, it’s versatile, it’s sustainable. It’s what all good eaters... should be seeking out.”

And it shouldn’t be hard to find for New Yorkers, in particular. The waters around the northeast are home to some of the best squid in the world.

“Big schools of squid have always existed off the coast of New York and part of the Eastern seaboard,” said Halweil, “but American fishers were never interested in it because there was no domestic market for squid. So up until the 1970s, fleets from Japan, and Portugal, and Italy would come and scoop up our fish.”

In 1976, the Magnuson-Stevens Act established American territorial waters and made it illegal for foreign vessels to fish in our seas. Suddenly, Long Island fishmongers were hauling up squid, which they would sometimes immediately sell to foreign ships. Soon enough, restaurateurs realized that squid was inexpensive, easy to freeze and fry, and held mass appeal.

With the rise in concerns about sustainable eating, squid comes out on top again. Halweil explained that there are two reasons squid ranks as a “best choice” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood watch chart.

While trawling for squid does involve using a net that’s as long as a city block, it doesn’t require scraping the bottom of the ocean floor. Squid live a few feet off the seafloor so the net skims, rather than drags. Also, squid “swims in these massive, dense schools, which means there’s not a lot of other fish in those schools with the squid,” added Halweil. “So when they scoop up a big school of squid, they might get a few big lobsters and they might get some butterfish, but they’re mostly getting squid."

(Photo: Calamari salad served at Almond restaurant/Lindsay Morris)

There’s a lot to love about this strange, bug-eyed creature.

“When I talk to chefs and fishers about why squid is so great, they say, one it’s sustainable,” Halweil said. “Two, it’s local. We have one of the largest squid fisheries in the world off the coast of New York. Three, [it’s] intensely economical. I mean, really inexpensive — $6 to $8 a pound if you’re willing to clean your own squid. And it’s very flexible in the kitchen.”

It can top a food as humble as pizza or be elevated to grace the menu of Esca.

“Squid is nice because you can cook it just a little bit or you can cook it a lot,” he said. “Everywhere in between it does get rubbery and that’s where squid and calamari gets a bad reputation.” In particular, Halweil likes to quickly sear it on a super hot grill. Once it chars on one side, he flips it, does the other side, and it’s done in a matter of minutes and ready to be served. Halweil also like to use it in soups and stews for long, slow preparations.

Here’s a bonus: While squid is ubiquitous as a food stuff, it is also a creature of the sea that maintains the power to fascinate and delight. I mean, just look at this international team of grown adult scientists freak out over this giant squid sighting. And, yes, we are cautiously ignoring that recent, horrifying episode of This American Life. Take it away, Ira.

Wait, before you listen to that, here are some recipes for your eating pleasure.