When you go in for almond milk, and come out with an octopus.
So, some people buy shoes, others buy electronics, and a few, like my father, buy a massive gas grill when they already have one, because it happened to be a really, really good deal (love you, dad!). Impulse buys vary from person to person, and they range from the insignificant to the 'what-the-hell-did-I-just-do?!' For me, impulse buys tend to be food related - and nine times out of ten, it's something I've never cooked before.
Cut to this morning. I walked into the supermarket to pick up a carton of almond milk, and 20 minutes later, I walked out with an octopus. An eight-legged. one and a half pound sucker with its head still attached, resembling something Sigourney Weaver may have encountered in any one of the Alien movies. Because, why not, I guess.
As I drove home, I had a heightened awareness of the paper bag on the passenger seat next to me, and a growing realization that I had absolutely no idea how to cook the octopus inside it, or what to serve it with, for that matter. There's also something equal parts cool and unsettling about bringing home food that still looks like the animal it used to be. When that animal has four times the amount of arms you do, being sat in traffic with a bag you know can't possibly be rustling, but somehow seems like it is, is ever so slightly unnerving.
Once the two of us made it back to my apartment, I unwrapped my brown paper packet and stared straight into the rear end of an upside down cephalopod, that seemed like it was either going to ink me, or possibly jump up and wrap its cupped tentacles around my stumped face.
After a moment of ever-so-slight intimidation, and the words 'what the hell am I gonna do with you,' actually audibly floating out of my mouth, I pulled out my phone and consulted the two individuals I knew would know the answer - my dear friend and the talented chef of one of my favorite restaurants, The Little Door, and Google. Chef said poach and braise and Google said do whatever Chef says.
Not sure whether to keep my newly acquired guest's head on or not, I figured I'd save him what little dignity he had left, and me the chore of pulling a limp head off a squishy body, by submerging him whole. The head I could deal with later.
If you've never dunked a whole, slippery and greyish-blue octopus into a pot of simmering water, I think you'll find it morbidly satisfying. Call me strange, but it's kind of amazing to see its color turn from lackluster to purpley-pink and the arms go from long and stringy, to perfectly curled and plump. I know, I know. I need to get out more, and should probably be on somebody's 'watch list' - but it's just so damn cool! This is the kind of thing that makes me really happy.
This is also when I realize, it's a good thing I live alone, because guys, poaching a whole octopus in your kitchen is like cooking sardines at home (which I did once, during week one of living with my great friend and former roommate. Sorry, Amy! At least they were tasty, right?) - it's fragrant, to say the least. But, if you don't mind your entire 800 square foot apartment smelling like Sydney Harbor on a hot day, then you've got nothing to worry about. It's basically like a trip to the seaside. And by basically. I mean, in the sense that you're just as land-locked as before, so nothing like it at all.
As the lid to the pot rattled while my new-found friend poached, I couldn't help but peek my head around the corner, into the kitchen, just to check that none of his eight legs were prying out over the edge. They were not. My inner Sigourney breathed a sigh of relief.
Next up, braising.
I emptied the pot of the poaching liquid, which had turned a slight shade of purple, and started anew, with clean water, seasoning and a little more confidence. Stage 2.
Two hours of braising seems like a lot of time for such a small creature, but nobody likes octopus you can bounce off the pavement, so two hours to tenderize is what it takes. Two hours also gives you plenty of time to record the adventure that is cooking your impulse buy.
Finally, after much anticipation, I pulled that little beauty out of its braising liquid, plopped it on a cutting board, admired it lovingly, and cut those eight squirmy legs right off its body. It's not personal, it's business. Now I realize I could probably eat the head, but honestly, it felt like that was getting a little too intimate, so today, it was arms and that's it.
The final step in this quick-shopping-trip-turned-all-day-project, was to get some color on those arms, by giving them a hard sear on a hot cast iron pan in a little olive oil. Tender on the inside, browned and slightly crisp on the outside. What every octopus strives to be when it grows up.
Tossed with some garlicky, tomatoey pasta and just a sprinkling of chili flakes, this guy was everything I could have hoped he would be - tender, flavorful and totally conquered. Somebody give me five - I mean eight!
Ok, your turn....
For the octopus:
For the pasta:
Poach the whole octopus in a large pot of salted water, for 10 minutes. You want the octopus completely submerged.
Remove the octopus from the water, pour out the water, and refill the pot with enough to cover the octopus. Add your 3 smashed garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp chili flakes, 2 strips of lemon peel and some salt. Bring the water to a simmer, cover the pot and braise the octopus for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until completely tender.
Remove the octopus from the water, strain out the lemon peel, chili flakes and garlic cloves, and reserve the water to cook the pasta in.
Cut the legs from the body, into bite sized pieces, and sear them in a cast iron skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil, about two minutes per side. Octopus, done.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, in the reserved braising liquid. If for some reason there isn't enough, just add more water to it. The seasoned water you cooked your octopus in, will flavor the noodles beautifully.
In a small pan, heat the 1/4 cup of olive oil and add the minced garlic and chili flakes. Cook for about a minute at medium heat.
Add your tomatoes and cook until soft and blistered, then add in the octopus pieces, and about a tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Once your pasta is cooked, add that to the pan with the tomatoes. Always add the pasta, a little at a time, to the sauce, and not the sauce to the pasta. That way you don't risk too much pasta to too little sauce.
Now dig in, you've certainly earned it.
Oh, as a side note, I got so caught up I forgot the almond milk, of course. God only knows what I'll come home with instead of it next time!