Sunday, December 18, 2011

Conquering the Sea Monster (Fighting the Sea Monster, Round 3)

It has become a bit of an obsession.  I just want to get a dang octopus tenderized.

Round one involved a 45 minute simmer, followed by a quick marinade, then a toss on the grill.  The result?  One chewy cephalopod.

Round two found our 8-legged meal braised in olive oil and vinegar for over an hour, then another skid across a hot grill grate.  If not for a hunger brought about by consumption, it would've remained untouched.  Even rubbery than the first attempt.

As I lay in my kitchen- a dejected, pummeled pile of inadequate cooking technique- the invitation upon the refrigerator gave a glimmer of hope.  Every year, we get together with a few folks in December and celebrate the food and drink of a particular country.  Upon the invitation, scrawled in what appeared to be octopus tentacles, I read, "Spain".  Indeed, the Spanish consume their share of this potentially tasty critter, and a particular preparation- Pulpo a la Gallega- is said to be tender and delicious.

Tender and delicious.  Blinded by the suspect wiles of the internet, and its sultry promises of edible- nay- scrumptious sea creatures,  I- yet again- lined the pockets of the local octopus tycoons.  Relaxing, no doubt, in the spoils of their octopus fortunes.

Pulpo (which is Spanish for "octopus") a la Gallega is essentially a preparation of boiling the creature until tender in a pot of water (I added some onions and a little garlic and vinegar).  The addition of a copper penny is said to help replicate the authentic technique of boiling in a copper pot.  Also, I added a wine cork to the boil.  Tradition says it ensures a tender 'pus.  Conventional wisdom says it just floats on top and looks stupid and irresponsible.

Once boiled, the octopus is sliced thinly along with sliced potatoes, and the whole mess is drizzled with olive oil and paprika.  Not surprising, as olive oil and paprika seem to be Spain's version of Ranch Dressing.

With no room for error (I had already convinced a few timid eaters that they would love food with tentacles), I employed a couple techniques seen at various corners of the interweb:

1)  When I got home with my raw quarry, I threw them in the freezer overnight.  Then, I let them thaw in the fridge for a day.  I'm guessing the freezing creates ice crystals, and the expanding ice disrupts the cell walls in the meat.  By the time the 'pus is thawed, it's all jacked up in the "structural integrity" department.

2)  I made sure to boil for over an hour.  After boning up on some light reading about thermal denaturing of proteins in squid, I figured out that the secret to cooking squid and octopus is a "bookend" approach.  That is to say, either cook very quickly or very long.  One can either cook so quickly that the protein strands remain intact, or so long that they completely unravel.  Anywhere in between, and the proteins constrict together, forming a tough, rubbery texture.  And, outside of an awesome name for an album, "Tough, Rubbery Texture" has little appeal.  

As knife hit tentacle, I knew that nerdy food science had paved the way for sexy food making.  The octopus was tender, and the monkey was off my back.

Granted, I still screwed it up a bit.  Wanting a hot preparation, I chose instead to cut up the octopus and potatoes, then quick-fry them in olive oil, with the addition of salt and paprika.  Not enough oil, and too much paprika.  All the paprika caked on the meat, and it became a bit of a soggy mess.  That said, the critter was tender, and I could put this one to rest.

Tip (guess I'm giving "tips" now):  when cooking something from a certain region, seek out wines from the same area.  As this is pulpo a la Gallega, it hails from the coastal region of Galacia in northwestern Spain.  There, the white wines of the Rias Baixas rule, and ones made from the white grape Albariño can make you freak out.  Maybe it's the proximity to the ocean, but these wines can taste almost salty (in my opionion, a simpler way of describing what some wine jerk means when he says a wine is "minerally").  They are rich and aromatic, but clean enough for seafood.  I snagged this one from Mac's in Midtown, and it was phat, if I may pull that term out of massive obscurity:

blog comments powered by Disqus