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Octopus

Octopus has been a delicacy enjoyed by many cultures for thousands of years.  There has been evidence of people such as ancient Romans catching and eating octopi as a special treat.  It comes to no surprise since octopus meat has great flavor and meaty texture.  There are many ways to enjoy octopus that range across many cultures around the world.  In this piece we will be discussing the best ways to cook octopus and the different varieties such as Mediterranean recipes, and Japanese octopus recipes.

Firstly, what is an octopus?

Octopus are a marine invertebrate that consist of a head/body and eight distinctive arms which it can use for a variety of purposes for which it has many rows of suction cups that help it grab on to anything in its environment.  The only truly solid bone like part of the octopus is its beak, which it uses to break open any prey such as crabs or tear into fish.  Octopus are very malleable and can fit into very small spaces if their beak fits through.  There are many species of octopus throughout the world such as the great Pacific octopus or the blue ringed octopus, but we only consume a few types of octopi which can vary from size.

Most of the time octopus will be found precooked in specialty seafood stores.  It is usually boiled and then vacuum packed and frozen.  Most of the time octopus will not have any kind of additional spices added to it which gives the individual consumer the creative choice of adding any flavors that they want from the dish.  This type of product makes it far simpler as well since you don’t need to go through the painstaking process of cleaning and cooking the octopus yourself. 

The first type of cooked octopus on the list is found across Southern European and Mediterranean countries.  Often attributed to Spanish cooking, this type of dish is a great entrée or can be used as a tasteful appetizer.  Spanish octopus, otherwise known as pulpo, is a boiled octopus with olive oil and paprika.  There are many varieties of spices that can be used for this recipe but the most traditional can have salt, wine, paprika, olive oil, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. 

You start by warming up the cooked octopus in a simmer of braising liquid that contains lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and cayenne pepper.  Once the octopus is heated up you quickly fry it in a pan with onions, garlic, bay leaf, salt, and white wine.  You can accompany this octopus dish with a variety of tapas and other antipasti that you wish.  It can accentuate any pasta or paella and make it a more exciting culinary experience, or it is delicious by itself. 

Octopus is also considered a highly revered delicacy in Asian cultures, most famously in Korea and Japan.  The Japanese method that is most noted is the use of boiled octopus in sushi, whether you have octopus nigiri, or the octopus is a part of a roll.  Octopus is also found in many Japanese dishes such as Takoyaki, which are doughy balls filled with octopus and covered in sauce.  Here we will focus more on how to make octopus sushi easily at home.  Your first step will be to cook your sushi rice, specifically Japanese short grain rice. 

Once your rice is done you will add a small amount of rice vinegar and even mirin (rice wine) to flavor the rice.  Take the cold precooked octopus and slice it into slices about the width of the top of your pinky finger.  You can heat up the octopus but having it cold is better, plus the rice will be cooked and provide a variety for your senses.  Form your rice into small torpedo shapes and add a small smidge of wasabi. 

I highly suggest getting your own wasabi grater and fresh wasabi since it tastes better that way, and since 90% of wasabi on the market is not wasabi, but horseradish with food dye.  From here place the octopus slices on the rice and wrap a thin strip of nori around it.  Finally get yourself some good soy sauce for dipping!  Don’t get cheap Kikkoman!  I suggest finding tamari soy sauce since it is far more flavorful and is more than just black salt water.  Dip your octopus sushi upside down so the meat gets the soy sauce!  You want to avoid having the rice get soy sauce on it since the flavors can clash and eat the sushi fish side down on your tongue.

Not all octopus is sold precooked though

You can find raw or live octopus in certain markets, though it is much harder to find.  Many high-end sushi chefs prefer raw octopus so that they can massage it and prepare it to their exact liking for the sushi.  This is in itself a tedious process that most at home chefs will want to avoid since it does take quite a bit of time and energy to do.  It can improve your Mediterranean dish and provide an extra bit of freshness if you really want to go through the hassle.  In Korea they do take it a step further. 

Live octopus is known to be a very special delicacy that has a special risk.  More people choke on live octopus and die every year than people die from improperly prepared fugu.  The first method of eating live octopus is the riskiest.  You take a small octopus and wrap it around chopsticks in a special manner and then dip it whole into a variety of sauces.  The trick then is then to chew it up as thoroughly as you can because you want to avoid it latching onto your throat on the way down, thus choking you to death. 

This was demonstrated recently by a tik-tok video from Korea where a young woman tried to eat a whole octopus which latched on to her face and she had trouble removing it.  Most Koreans do prefer a more simplified method where the live octopus is chopped up into smaller and much more manageable pieces and served up with vegetables, kimchi, and other sauces. 

There are a few ways of preparing this eight-armed sea creature.  Many people shy away from such a culinary experience, but other find it to be delightful and delicious experience.  Octopus is full of protein, has very low fat, and is very nutritious with many vitamins and minerals.  Eating octopus can help improve and sustain your health, and add some special variety to your diet.

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