(June 7, 2019) The art of entertaining is a chance to pull back the curtain and allow guests to be part of your whimsical merriment.
Rehearsal time is comprised of deconstructing a recipe and then bringing it to life with your own point of view and personal touch. Developing a special dish for a memorable occasion takes time and much consideration.
That being said, I will be entertaining this weekend and have decided to serve grilled octopus as an appetizer.
The repertoire of a cook should include expanding one’s comfort zone. Allow me to share my thought process for preparing this starter.
If one has never cooked octopus, a few tips will ensure fabulous results. Demystifying octopus comes down to a few key factors.
Like its cephalopod cousin the squid, the octopus has no bones. Most of its meat is in its arms.
Without a skeleton and constructive tendons to support the muscles, the meat is uncommonly tough. So, the most important and challenging aspect of cooking octopus is to achieve tenderness.
Octopus usually benefits from a nice braise for about an hour or so to tenderize the meat. This can be accomplished with water, broth or wine.
After that, octopus can be grilled, sauced, or glazed. It handles spice rather well, so do not be shy about adding heat.
Charring the octopus post-braise is a nice way to introduce a little smokiness and only takes a few minutes to obtain the desired texture.
If one is a purest, they will probably serve the grilled octopus with a coating of olive oil, fresh lemon juice and a dusting of kosher salt. But if your palate desires more of a zesty touch, consider serving it with a spicy chipotle sauce.
The next stage is to visualize the plate design for an artistic presentation. Knowing what your finished plate will look like helps one focus on details.
Should you present the octopus whole or cut it into individual portions is up to the individual chef. Remember, the subtle components of your dish distinguish average plating skills verses superlative displays.
Once you have a rough idea of how the dish should look, start sketching out potential designs.
Drawing the finish is not only an effective way to concentrate on the “star” of the plate, but also the subordinate elements. A chef’s completed dish should look like a work of art.
In closing, if you have a yearning to try something new, grilled octopus is actually very easy to make. The following recipe is time consuming but it yields a delicious and unique appetizer. Enjoy!
* The octopus pictured in this article can be purchased at Harris Teeter for $7.99. The package contains 2 to 3 octopuses at 3.5 ounces.
Chipotle Honey Lime Sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 chipotle chili in adobe sauce
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 ¼ teaspoon honey
1 ¼ teaspoon ground smoked cumin
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped scallions
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds
1. In a food processor, combine lime juice, chipotle pepper, adobe sauce, honey, cumin, garlic, salt and olive oil. Blend until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
2. Add cilantro, scallions and sesame seeds, and set aside.
½ pound baby cleaned octopuses
1 cup dry red wine
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt to taste
1 head of garlic, skins removed
1 small yellow onion, quartered
1 stalk celery, rough chopped
good quality extra-virgin olive oil
fresh herbs for a garnish
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Fill a pot with one-half vegetable stock and one-half water. The water should cover the octopuses by at least 2-inches.
2. Add red wine, octopus, bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, salt, garlic, onion, celery and 1 lemon (cut in half) into the vegetable stock mixture.
Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and cook until octopus is tender, approximately 60 to 90 minutes. Remove lid and allow octopus to cool in the liquid, drain and pat dry.
3. Prepare a grill. It should be hot and the rack should be no further than 4-inches from the source of heat. Grill the octopus whole or cut it into larger serving pieces.
4. Grill it quickly so the outside browns before the inside dries out.
5. Just before serving, brush the octopus with olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a dusting of kosher salt.
Serve with a side of chipotle honey lime vinaigrette (optional) and garnish with fresh herbs.
Secret Ingredient – Taking a Chance. “Don’t be afraid to give up the good for the great.”
– John D. Rockefeller