Monday, January 21, 2013

Octopus A la Plancha

 There are a few varieties of seafood that must be either cooked very quickly or braised for hours before becoming tender; anything in between will result in meat that has the consistency of a rubber tire.  A few examples are squid, geoduck clams and octopus. 

This week we got in two fresh octopus.  You can find dozens of tips and myths on how to make octopus tender, ranging from cooking it with a penny to pounding it with daikon radish.  Some of these work well and others are merely old wives tales.  The truth is that getting tender octopus is just a matter a patience.  If you are working with a fresh octopus you start by rinsing it in fresh water and then scrubbing it in a bowl with coarse sea salt.  As you slap the octopus around in the bowl the layer of slime will begin to come off.  It takes a good five to ten minutes of aggressively working the octopus with salt to get it clean.  Next you cover the octopus in an aromatic liquid that has been cooled (think - bay leaves, garlic, thyme, salt, espelette, etc).  Cover the pan with foil and transfer to a 180 degree oven - cook for 10 to 12 hours until the octopus become fork tender.

This results in an octopus that is tender - but in some ways lacks texture and some depth of flavor.  To remedy this we transfer the braised octopus onto a red-hot griddle and lightly char the exterior.  Once the octopus is removed from the griddle (ten seconds at most) they have a slightly crisp exterior and juicy interior with just a touch of smokiness. 

Finding fresh octopus is not easy.  When I worked in Hawaii, my sous chef would occasionally spear octopus in the fish pond by Hamoa Beach.  He would bring the octopus to the surface, spit out his snorkel and bite down hard on the top of the octopus head, killing it before its tentacles attached to his dive suit or gear.  I have also occasionally found octopus at the wharf from fisherman who catch them in black cod or prawn traps.  Regardless of where you find it - a fresh octopus is well worth the effort! 

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