I’ve been waiting to share this with you for ages, so maybe make this right now? Soon, maybe; no pressure.
Why? Because this salad is worth it. Because summer is the perfect time to try new things, or revisit things maybe you’ve tried a few times and think about occasionally. I’ve never cooked octopus before; I’ve eaten it several times, and loved it, but it always seemed rather daunting. I’m here to tell you it’s not: if you can get past the defrosting, that is, because it’s the worst.
You can find octopus in most any asian or international market (STL: head to Global Foods, middle freezer section), neatly frozen into cubes; no big deal, right? Right! Until you thaw them. This takes forever in the refrigerator – unsurprising, considering the shape. It dawns on me at some point that this method isn’t cutting it (although it’s a great head start), so I head to the sink to do a nice cold-water bath to get it the rest of the way there.
That’s where the trouble started.
People, I am not a squeamish person. Seriously; I have no gag reflex and can basically touch, smell, or eat anything without freaking out, which is clearly why I have this gig. Maybe you are that way too, and maybe you’ve handled baby squid before and been like “OMG so cute!” and that’s great, you. Fist bumps. But here’s what: when you’re dealing with a large, raw, slowly defrosting octopus, that gag reflex – and all your horror-movie nerves – will be tested.
Stages of Horror:
- No horror – just a cube of frozen octopus, no big deal! Maybe you’ve thawed it in the fridge, so it’s little soft on the outside, but nothing you can’t handle, Braveheart. It’s just a sea creature, right? No problem.
- Level 2 horror – that octopus that you know is dead just moved like a live octopus. Did anyone else see that?
- Level 4-5 horror – The legs are slowly unfurling and here’s the head the head is visible and there’s a beak in there somewhere DEAR LORD IS ANYONE ELSE SEEING THIS. It’s not alive…it’s not alive…is it alive?
- Level 7 horror – Seriously now the head is up and the legs are all squirmy and you’ve heard of cryogenics where it’s maybe possible to freeze some thing that’s still alive when it thaws. You are convinced that is exactly what’s happening in your sink. You back away. You know it’s stupid, but you back away.
- Plateau, Level 7 horror – you stare at it like an idiot for an undetermined amount of time.
- Level 8 horror – it dawns on you that you have to go back in and touch it. All you can think about its beak and that it’s maybe still alive and also all those sea-creature horror movies you’ve seen, and how smart you know octopuses are they are so smart.
- Plateau, Level 8 horror – you get the longest spoon you have…just to poke it. Just to make sure. Just to not die. You are convinced – even though it sounds crazy – that it’s about to jump out of the sink and adhere itself to your face.
- Level 9 horror – You poke it. a few times.
- Level 4 horror – it’s probably not alive or out for revenge. You can do this. Perhaps.
- Horror subsides – You make all the octopus.
Now that you know the possible levels of horror you’ll experience, why not go right ahead and buy yourself a big octopus and make my delicious salad? Or anything else, really: octopus is pretty amazing; succulent and light and a total treat that can hold its own in pretty much anything. It’s tough, so start with my braising recipe (alter it as you see fit; you can braise it in any liquid with any herbs combo you want to suit your needs) and then go from there. I like a char on mine: it caramelizes the outsides and gives it a smoky flavor – always a plus, in my opinion. It can handle sauces rather well, and my next venture with this is a curry, I think.
I owe you a roundup of Feast columns, because I haven’t posted them in a few months due to the move and getting settled. They’re out there, obviously, but expect that soon. If you’d like the recipe for my (not scary anymore) octopus salad, head right this way, please. Jon Gayman, you did a fantastic job of bringing my octopus to life in your photographs; thank you for that. If you want to see what I’ve been doing with the column these past few months, head over here or sit tight and I’ll round them up for you.
Recipe, folks! Right over here. Refer to my horror guide above if needed.