Stories abound all around the mariner’s world of ships being enveloped by the arms of giant octopuses, usually being dismissed as purely a fisherman’s tale. But in New Zealand an octopus was caught weighing a colossal 160lb (75kg) and measuring nearly 14 ft (4m) long that may give some credence to these seafarer’s yarns.
Fortunately for us, the octopuses that appear on our local fish store’s slab are usually of a more manageable 3lb, which is enough to feed four people. And at only around $4.00 per lb they are also relatively inexpensive. Grayish pink in color with suction cupped arms octopuses are often only available frozen as they are highly perishable and will deteriorate in just one or two days and should be discarded if they smell at all ‘fishy’. Octopus is a meaty seafood with a flavor often described as shrimp meets chicken and with a taste of the sea.
They are cephalopods with eight arms which amble along the sea floors eating crab, shrimp, crayfish and other mollusks. An octopus has three hearts but no bones just connective tissue and it is this tissue which is often the problem when cooking. Cook it too long and the tissue will toughen up and this will result in the ‘rubberiness’ that it is so often described by. But when cooking octopus for a long time and at a temperature of 130f degrees and above then the tissue will begin to turn gelatinous as the fibers weaken. The Greeks add vinegar to ensure an ‘unrubbery’ texture while others recommend giving it a good whacking before cooking.
Popular across the Mediterranean where it is often just briefly grilled to give a crisp outside and soft inside and partnered simply with lemon, olive oil and oregano. In Spain it is served chopped into one inch pieces and laid over sliced potatoes then drizzled with a concoction of olive oil, garlic and paprika. An octopus terrine can be made by simply weighing it down as it is so gelatinous. It is also widely cooked slowly in either red or white wine for an octopus stew or Polvo Guisado as the Portuguese would call it. Octopus confit also makes an appearance often cooked in olive oil rather than the traditional confit ingredient of goose fat.
Octopus is also immensely popular across Asia where it turns up as sushi and also in the strange sounding offering of octopus ice cream. But it is in South Korea where the strangest plate of octopus food occurs. Here live octopus is served up often with a splash of sesame oil, eating the offerings of this writhing plate is believed to bring strength and stamina. Eating live octopus also comes with a health warning; each piece must be thoroughly chewed as the suction pads could stick to your throat on the way down. Nice.
See here for a video clip. YouTube -
Photos courtesy of wikimedia and flickr - Julesnene, Nickamemike, rabinal