8th August 2012
A Glut of Octopodes
Octopus tentacles.

According to my fishmonger there was a glut of octopuses at the wholesaler. Though a pedant might have said octopodes, and an ignoramus octopi, however you decline them the phrase still brings some pretty horrible images to mind - maybe I've seen too many Alien films!

I can't remember cooking octopus before, squid yes, octopus not so much and it looks hard to avoid them turning to rubber.
According to my fishmonger's Greek friend freezing them helps to break down the tissues slightly, but I decided to have at a couple of his fresh ones to see how they turned out.
Some research suggested that the best approach would be a long slow braise, so that's what I went for.
The result was quite tasty, and the octopus flesh reasonably tender, but held surprisingly little flavour which had all leached out into the sauce, leaving the octopus very reminiscent of tired chewing gum.

Probably dinner wasn't much helped by having little time to enjoy it before packing up for the Anstruther Muster weekend - stuff a dry sack with my sleeping bag and new camping pillow, a quick shave and I'm off.

Ha! I should be so lucky - and so a moan about razors:

When I was 16 I bought the then-cutting-edge :) Gillette Atra - a swivel-headed modification of the GII - the world's first twin-bladed razor. And that, I figured, was that. Who could have foreseen the need to ever buy another razor?
I spent the next 30 years happily shaving away with it until at the age of 45 my then-girlfriend audaciously bought me a strange plasticky King Of Shaves wishbone-shaped affair to keep at her place so I could get a decent shave there and spare her sore face.
Sceptical as I was, the razor soon won me over - giving a smoother, cleaner and less bloody shave than my old Gillette so when I moved out I made sure to take it with me and have been happily using it since. Until now that is.
When I first started using it, it had, I think, 4 blades in the cartridges. However it now appears impossible (at least at my local Fucking Supermarket™) to buy replacement cartridges which have fewer than five blades in them: and they stink. There are now so many blades there no longer seems to be room for the hair, and after shaving half my face with a brand new cartridge the blades stop working and I have to crack open a new one.
Can this be just me? I mean, it's ridiculous right? They've stuck so many blades in the damn thing that it has become actually unusable, and I had to rush out and buy a new Gillette razor just so I could get a fucking shave.

Isn't progress marvellous? In my lifetime we've gone from a razor which lasts 30 years to one which is useless in 5. It's got to the point when I'm genuinely considering trying out a straight razor.

Lemon Braised Octopus
main fish
Octopus live longer than their squiddy neighbours, and don't have that wedge of cartilage to hold their shape, so they tend to be tougher. Sometimes much tougher.
Opinions vary on how to get the best out of your octopus, from tenderising by pounding, brining or freezing, to blanching, simmering, braising, cooking in vinegar and even adding a cork to the blanching water.
Gentle braising seems to be the most popular option, adding herbs, spices or olive oil, so that they mostly cook in their own juices. (Which makes you wonder how they might get on sous vide?)

I decided to try them with a very long, slow braise in lemon juice, at 200°F (93°C); so I used my very handy electronic meat thermometer, which has a probe at the end of a long oven-proof cable. I stuck that inside the casserole dish, ran the cable out through the tiny gap in the oven door to its monitor and adjusted the oven setting so the casserole was pretty close to 200°F, which was just over Gas Mark 1 for my oven (so running a bit cool - that should have been 275°F).

OK, my octopus wasn't exactly melt-in-the-mouth, but it was pretty tender. It might have been even better if I hadn't had to go to bed before I got the chance to eat it, so I had it re-heated the next day, when the octopus seemed to be toughening up again.
Adding something to soak up the exuded juices is essential - I used potato.

Serves 3


Clean the octopus.
To do this lay the little guy lengthwise on a chopping board, and cut the tentacles off just below the eyes, and the bulbous body off just above the eyes.
Throw away the middle bit.
Clean out the body sac, removing all the innards and particularly two thin cartilaginous needles attached to the walls. It's easiest to do this by turning it inside out. Then peel off the outside skin. Wash thoroughly.
Clean the tentacles making sure no grit is stuck in the suckers and making sure to remove the beak if it is still attached at the centre. Peel away as much skin from the top end as you can. Wash thoroughly.
Separate the tentacles and chop them and body into bite-sized pieces.

Preheat the oven to 200°F, 93°C - about Gas Mark ¼.
Grate the lemons' peel.
Heat up a heavy cast iron casserole dish.
Finely slice the onions and fry in a generous amount of olive oil until they start to caramelise nicely, but still show yellow centres.
Peel the garlic and slice fatly. Throw them in with the onions.
Turn up the heat and gradually add the octopus, stirring until they are starting to fry or until they begin to lose liquid.
Throw in the lemon rind, then add a generous splash of vermouth, the juice of 1 or 2 lemons and the thyme leaves. Season generously with about 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground mixed peppercorns.
Put in the low oven for a couple of hours. Meanwhile par-boil the potatoes, cut them into fat wedges or slices, then add to casserole. Continue to braise gently for another hour or two until the octopus flesh is meltingly soft. If you're lucky.
Serve garnished with roughly chopped dill and drizzle of olive oil.
Rather tasty, though most of the flavour actually ends up in the juices rather than the meat.
You could probably stir the dill (or some fennel fronds) into the stew slightly earlier.

For some reason the tentacles seemed more tender than the sliced body sac, make of that what you will.
The cooking time will be highly size-dependant. Baby octopus might be ready in a couple of hours, monsters of the deep might take 5 hours or more. My medium ones seemed about right after 3 hours.

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