Saturday, September 24, 2022

Eating Octopus

Octopus is not commonly eaten in the United States. Note the Wikipedia "Octopus as food" article which lists ten countries where it is commonly eaten, which includes the United States, but then only refers to Hawaii. When I talk to people about food and mention octopus, I find that most have never tried it and a common reaction is "eeew" or "gross." 

My first time eating octopus was also the first time I ate sushi and cooked snails, in a sushi bar in Santa Monica with my partner Stan Harter. They were tiny octopi that were whole, including all legs and the head. All I could think of as I ate it was chipping a tooth on the beak. That first taste was a test of will and not a pleasant experience. As I look back I find quite a few posts on octopus: 
          On April 4, 2009 I cooked my first and only octopus (excepting re-hydrated dried octopus) in making Peruvian purple potato causa with octopus. It was to try and copycat a similar dish we ate in Peru at Las Brujas de Cachiche. This was fun because I dealt with a relatively large, whole octopus.
          On August 26, 2009 I posted on octopus causa cooked for us specially at El Rico Pollo in San Bernardino, California.  
          On March 3, 2010 I posted on dried octopus that I re-hydrated and grilled ("I didn't love it, in fact, I probably would not cook it again...I can eat octopus, but I still have not tasted any octopus that I really liked. For me, squid is still substantially better. Still, there is something wonderful about the look of octopus.").  
          On July 23, 2010 I posted on octopus grilled in olive oil at Psaras Fish Taverna in Athens, Greece ("It was not rubbery, but it was not a flavor sparkler either. It was as good as any octopus I've ever had, but relative to other things I really like, would be way down on the list.") 
          On August 9, 2011 I posted on canned octopus we found in the Munich airport ("It was soft, not rubbery, briny and very good, perhaps on par or even better than the octopus we had in Greece.")

All that I previously thought about octopus as food has changed dramatically as a result of our trip to Portugal. For me, octopus has transformed from a curiosity, something to try because of its uniqueness and weirdness, to something to eat because it really tastes good. For the most part, the octopus we had was large, a whole arm, not just bits and pieces. 
          On September 18, 2022 I posted on Tulhas Restaurante in Sintra, Portugal where we had our first octopus in Portugal, boiled then grilled.
          On September 21, 2022, I posted on Time-Out Market in Lisbon where we had octopus in sweet potato stew.
          On September 22, 2022 I posted on Sr. Lisboa in Lisbon where we had octopus with chimichurri sauce, maybe the best octopus I've had. 
          On September 12, 2022 I posted on  the Parador in Santiago de Compostela, Spain where we had stewed broad beans with octopus and cockles.
          On September 20, 2022 I posted on Republica de Polvo in Guimares, Portugal where we had both octopus roasted in olive oil and stewed with rice. 
I spent some time asking a chef how he prepared octopus and why octopus tasted so much better in Portugal than in the U.S. He said that the octopus is boiled first to soften it up, then he grilled it (where others later roasted it or perhaps fried it). But, he said the main reason it is better in Portugal is because they are so close to the ocean and they get it fresh.
Octopus with chimichurri at Sr. Lisboa in Portugal. 

Octopus stewed with rice at Republica de Polvo in Guimares, Portugal. 

Octopus roasted in olive oil at Republica de Polvo in Guimares, Portugal. 

Octopus in sweet potatos stew at Time-Out in Lisbon, Portugal. 

Grilled octopus at Tulhas Restaurante in Sintra, Portugal.