June 1, 2012
Guess the first Google hit for the search terms “Jose Andres octopus.” The menu at Jaleo, you say? Or a recipe from Andres’s TV show, “Made in Spain”?
Both are wrong. The first result Google returns for the seemingly culinary combination of the Spanish celebrity chef and this popular Mediterranean ingredient is an article from The Washington Post titled “Spain’s celebrity chef Jose Andres celebrates World Cup win, honors psychic octopus.” Psychic… what??
Let’s take a step back and review the chain of events that brought me to this discovery. While most normal people celebrated Memorial Day with a barbeque or an afternoon lounging on the beach, the highlight of my day was browsing the shelves of an Asian market in Little Tokyo. Dried shrimp, giant vessels of kimchi, ten different kinds of soba noodles, gorgeous Japanese eggplant, meaty short ribs…
Octopus in hand, I was immediately transported back to a spectacular dinner at Oyamel, Jose Andres’ Mexican tapas restaurant in Washington, D.C. While I’ve fallen in love with almost every single dish I’ve had at Oyamel, there are three that stick out in my mind the most. Well, one is a cocktail—Jose tops his margaritas with salt foam. I don’t even like tequila and I love these. The second is a tres leches cake with caramel ice cream and pineapple salsa. I’m incredibly picky about dessert (most are too sweet for me) but this was pure heaven. My favorite savory plate was a dish of octopus in an acidic tomato sauce with lots of parsley. I’m not sure what other ingredients abound in this (pseudo?) Mexican dish, but something tells me Woori Market doesn’t carry them. I decided to create my own version. Still, I was curious about Jose’s method for preparing the octopus, so I Googled “Jose Andres octopus” when I got home.
I’m sure many of you already know about Paul (soccer fans especially) the Oracle Octopus, but he came as quite a shock to me. People actually think an octopus can predict the results of the World Cup? And not just any people—famous Spanish chefs! The most zealous believers (on the losing side, of course) actually threatened Paul with bodily harm. Even Iranian president Ahmadinejad—because let’s face it, no global farce is complete without his involvement—mentioned Paul in a speech, claiming he is “a symbol of all that is wrong with the western world.” I can think of far better, if slightly less catchy (catch-y—get it?), symbols for all that is wrong with the western world than an oracle octopus. Alas, Ahmadinejad is hardly known for his profound public statements.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to do a little more research on our eight-legged friends. Apparently, Paul the Oracle Octopus is not the first strange incident in homo-cephalo relations. There’s also Henry the Hexapus, a six-legged octopus that British scientists named after Henry VIII and his six wives. Pretty ingenious name, if you ask me.
Octopus wrestling was a popular sport in the 1960s, although the categorization of “sport” seems a bit dubious—it basically consisted of a diver dragging an octopus from its lair to the surface. There was even a World Octopus Wrestling Championship held in the Puget Sound in 1963. The “sport” is now illegal in the state of Washington, but not on Japanese game shows. (Is anything forbidden on Japanese game shows?).
Speaking of Asians and octopuses, Koreans actually eat them live, a tradition that Anthony Bourdain is intimately familiar with. As much as I love Korean food, the thought of a wriggling, suctioning tentacle in my mouth is not all that appetizing.
Octopuses themselves are pretty fascinating creatures. Everyone knows they have eight arms, but did you know they have three hearts? And that when they mate, the male either deposits his reproductive arm inside the female or detaches it and lays it at her (eight) feet? The male dies shortly after mating. The female dies shortly after hatching her eggs because she hasn’t eaten since she laid them, Although some females actually eat their own arms (which grow back, by the way) in order to stay alive long enough to care for their eggs. How’s that for motherly love? Octopuses have the largest brains of all invertebrates and are very intelligent. They would be too interesting to eat if they weren’t so delicious.
Octopuses are not easy to cook. If you undercook them they taste funny and if you overcook them they turn into shoe leather—kind of like their cousins, squid. There are two options for preparing octopus—boiling them for a long time or grilling them for a short time. The former method is more foolproof, but I went with the latter because it’s considerably easier and I like the crispy browned exterior that grilling produces.
If you try this recipe and the octopuses you buy are not cleaned, all you have to do is remove the beak, and then cut a slit in the head, invert it, and pull out the innards. I soaked mine in fresh water while I prepared the sauce, but I don’t think this is necessary; just rinse them under cold water.
So how does my invention compare to the dish at Oyamel that inspired it? Obviously mine’s not as amazing (I mean, you’re talking Jose Andres), but it’s similar and very tasty. It would make a great appetizer for a barbeque.
Whatever you do, don’t put your perfectly grilled, tender octopus into the boiling hot sauce like I did. Mine didn’t turn out rubbery, but it wasn’t as tender as it was when I tasted it fresh off the grill because it continued cooking in the hot sauce. I recommend letting the sauce cool until it’s warm or barely hot before you grill the octopus.
Perhaps the most telling indication of this recipe’s merit is that when my boyfriend tasted it, after a considerably amount of prodding on my part, he said he would have eaten more if he hadn’t seen the octopus in its raw, wriggly state on a fish counter of questionable cleanliness.
Grilled Octopus with Charred Tomato Sauce
To char the tomatoes and onions: On a hot charcoal grill or oiled grill pan, grill the tomatoes until the skins are blistery and charred in places. At the same time, grill the onion slices until browned on both sides. The tomatoes and onions will both take about 10 minutes to char.
To prep the tomatoes and onions: When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and place the peels in a strainer set over a medium-sized bowl. Cut the tomatoes in half and scrape the seeds into the strainer. Squeeze the excess juice through the strainer by pushing the pulp against the sides of the strainer with a spoon. Discard the pulp. Roughly chop the tomatoes and onions and add them to the tomato juice.
To make the sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat the tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chili and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato-onion mixture, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer uncovered until the tomatoes are broken down and the onions softened but still a bit crisp, 20–30 minutes. Let the sauce cool so that it’s warm (this is important because if it’s boiling hot it will continue to cook the octopus when you add it to the sauce). Stir in the vinegar and parsley.
To cook the octopus: If using a charcoal grill, toss the octopus with a drizzle of olive oil. If using a grill pan, drizzle olive oil over the pan. Grill the octopus over high heat for 3 minutes. Turn and grill the other side for another 2 minutes, or until cooked through. Roughly chop the octopus, toss with the warm tomato sauce, and serve immediately with lemon wedges.