General recipe development examples
Octopus will divide your audience – it’s a ‘Marmite’ food: you either love it or hate it.
Some people think we shouldn’t eat any animal blessed with the apparent ‘intelligence’ to predict the outcome of football World Cups, or something that reminds us of Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid – or anything that is endowed with suction cups – gross!
If the octopus has suffered a bad press, the scorn even extents to people who have acquired its taste: Richard Olney describes how being an ‘octopus-eater’ is a defamatory remark in some parts of Italy and France. This is unfortunate; as Olney also says, ‘…the octopus is not unworthy of a serious and unprejudiced table’. As far as cephalopods go, it’s as anatomically benign as a cuttlefish or a squid – both of which are similar in texture and taste, but still somehow manages to score higher on the ‘yucky-food’ scale.
However, octopus can be associated with perhaps one legitimate prejudice – on occasions it can be tough. Avoiding this characteristic has resulted in a wide range of odd treatments for preparing and cooking octopus. My earliest memory of octopus was watching a Greek fisherman bashing an octopus on the rocks in Corfu. The process seemed to go on indefinitely – any quaint enthusiasm for witnessing local traditions quickly waned as our sympathies fell to the sad mop of flesh. Recipes suggest all manner of tenderising techniques, ranging from freezing before cooking, repeated plunges in boiling water, adding corks to cooking pot, hours of boiling, or using the same principle as our Greek fisherman, bashing the unfortunate creature with kitchen implements.
Italians prepare very toothsome octopus and include them in their famous seafood salads. The French cook octopus in a slow braise until they acquire a melt-in-the-mouth consistency and the Japanese make soft yielding sushi from thick octopus legs. However, the prize for the tenderest octopus goes to Galicia in Northern Spain. They have developed the ultimate example of eight-legged tenderness: polpo a la gallega, an octopus specialty served on a pinewood platter – the pimenton-saturated chunks of octopus are succulent and tender with a gloriously gelatinous texture and unctuous taste.
So let’s give the poor octopus the respect it deserves, it’s been tricked out of its watery home, bashed on the rocks, put in the freezer and cooked for several hours. The least we can do is try to enjoy it. Cook it well, keep an open mind and you will discover how good octopus can be!