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Monday, July 23, 2012

Harold McGee - Your New York Times Octopus Recipe Ruined Me! aka Octopus Odyssey 2

When I wrote the first part of this blog-journey, I was sure that the second post would be gloating about how easy it was to cook delicious fresh octopus at home. That didn't happen.

To recap part one, I found a recipe posted in the New York Times (although it was from 2008 - quality recipes are never outdated.) Click here to view the recipe I was salivating over.

A beautiful stroll through the DC Wharf left me with a fresh cephalopod and a dream. That dream was to recreate the tender sweet taste I'd enjoyed numerous times at sushi restaurants. It seemed easy enough, right?

The recipe wasn't really a recipe. He mentioned a few techniques that don't work, and then swore that blanching followed by braising the octopus in a low-oven would allow it to gently cook in its own unctuous gelatinous fat and juice, creating an always-tender, always tasty dish.


I will admit that I was amazed at how the octopus transformed from a limp, wet, dangling blob to a firm, round and inflated animal the instant it hit the boiling water.

From flat to fat - a blanched octopus comes alive!

Things were looking good. The eight legs had plumped and firmed, and looked good enough to eat. But I waited. Just like Mr. McGee had instructed. I placed the bouncing sea-creature in an enamel coated cast-iron pot with a tight fitting lid (no, I can't afford le creuset but Martha Stewart's line works just as well.)

The oven had been preheated to 200F, and I placed the pot in the oven and let him do his thing. After one hour, I checked in to see what was happening.

One hour of braising yielded a rich pink cooking liquid

The octopus had shrunk a little, and the oceany-perfume of its flesh permeated my little kitchen. The author of the recipe had been correct - dry braising the octopus let all of the natural juices accumulate and soon the pot was thick with cephalopod jelly-liquid.

The shriveled dark reality

But as the hours wore on, yes, hours, the octopus became more and more pathetic. The author recommended four-five hours of braising in its own liquid, and I stayed the course. By the time I pulled the ocean oddity from the oven, it looked ugly, dry, and shriveled like a little old man.

Unappetizing to look at - but I've been wrong before

But I am not one to judge a book by its cover. So, I sliced into one of the eight arms and felt the grossest sensation I've ever felt. The skin of the octopus had melted into a sticky, gluey substance that clung to my fingers and rubbed right off the octopus, revealing a pale beige flesh underneath.

I was thoroughly grossed out by this point

Still - not one to back away from a food challenge, I ate the slice of braised octopus. It was disgusting. It was dry and rubbery, flavorless, and refused to break down in my mouth. I made my husband take a bite, and he vomitted in his mouth before washing it all back down with lots and lots of juice. He claimed he couldn't get the nasty taste out of his mouth. And - the best part - our house stunk.

C-ya Cephy
The octopus' final resting place was a leftover grocery bag and my dumpster outside. It has been several days and I can't get the smell out of my fridge. My kids hate me. My husband refuses to try my next recipe.

I would consider the odyssey of the octopus a failure. But - I am not deterred. I will continue my search for the perfect octopus recipe. My gut tells me that octopi need no more than a few seconds of cook-time to yield the sweet, delicate, shrimp-like taste I am so fond of. My journey has ended for now, but I will travel the seas again until I get it right.



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