"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
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--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grilled Octopus with Oregano, and Asian Cucumber Ribbon Salad

People, the tragedy of my life is that my camera battery died right as I was trying to take a photo of me holding Monsiuer l'Octopus, thawed, up over the sink. I had my arm stretched up as high as it could go, and the tips of the tentacles brushed the sink bottom.

I couldn't believe how loose and flexible it was! Actually, I couldn't believe how the texture of the octopus skin felt--slightly "grabby", as if it had tiny little Velcro hooks in the skin. I spent a lot of time touching it because I was trying to thaw it out quickly so I had it in a bowl of cool water in the sink. It was amazing to have it ever-so-gradually go from a volleyball-sized frozen lump to a lump with a few wispy tentacles, to a creature with eight sturdy, flexible limbs. Crazy.

I guess the trick with octopi is tenderizing them--otherwise they're not so yummy to eat. I have recently been informed that a modern technique for this is running them through your washing machine (without soap, of course), but the book has you parboil them for 20 minutes or so until tender, after you've marinated them for 24 hours.

I left this parboiling job to my friend Moira while I went to my karate class, and imagine my deep astonishment when I came home and found, not a four-foot long tentacled octopus, but this:



Serious shrinkage! I know that proteins shrink when they cook, but this just goes to show you how loosey-goosey living octopus proteins are, which explains how they can do things like escape through one inch holes.



The next step was to throw it on the grill, along with a nice selection of veggies from this week's organic produce box:



The book instructs you to grill it for about 10-12 minutes, then serve it with the reserved marinade, which is a very simple oil/vinegar/oregano combo.

The texture went from tender in some spots to kind of chewy in other spots, depending on the thickness of the meat. Moira, whose father was a doctor of many Sicilian and Azorean patients (who ate a lot of octopus), kept saying that it was just how it was supposed to be--she was my cheering squad as I did things like scrub the purple octopus skin off with a dish scrubber, which is the tool I switched to after trying to "rub it off" with my fingers as the recipe directs.

When it comes right down to it, I wasn't overly enamoured with the actual eating part of this experience. The marinade wasn't interesting enough to counterbalance the char-grilled chewiness of the octopus flesh.

But I'm not writing octopus off. There's another recipe for it--a Proven├žal treatment with tomatoes, olives and even some hot chilies--and I'm looking forward to trying it. Will I tenderize it by running it through my washing machine? Stay tuned and find out.

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I made Asian Cucumber Ribbon Salad on the fly last night right before dinner at work. We had a pretty bowl of cucumbers from a neighbor, and this seemed like the perfect thing to do with them. It was to be my little dinner while I sat with Mrs. S. when she ate her more substantial one.



I say "it was to be" because I couldn't eat the darn stuff! Every time I put a bite in my mouth (twice) the vinegar went down the wrong pipe and I ended up coughing and struggling to draw a breath. I don't know what I was doing wrong--I certainly know how to eat and it's not like I was eating and trying to tell jokes at the same time--we were just watching the Lou Dobbs Report. Maybe it was Lou who was making me cough, I don't know.

Anyway, I'm thinking that perhaps this salad is best eaten in combination with other things that would soak up the vinegar in one's mouth--like maybe rice or bread. I'll probably try it again, just because it's high cucumber season, but jeez--keep a tall glass of water nearby me, ok?

3 comments:

Jessica said...

Yeah, I'm in Japan and eating a LOT of grilled octopus--the little octopi are a lot more tender :)

And are those leeks you are grilling? I've never had grilled leeks...

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

You know, the recipe called for 2-lb. octopus, but the only thing my fish guy had was a 4 lb. fella. On consideration, maybe I should have doubled things like the parboiling time.

They are leeks! Grilling them makes them wonderfully tender, and it couldn't be easier. :-) Just leave a little of the root end on so it stays in one piece.

Kim said...

The octopus dish looks amazing - there's something very satisfying about seeing meat (of almost any type) being cooked on a grill like that. I can almost smell it :)