Updates have been slow lately. The boys are away for the summer, which is sad and depressing. The house feels empty. As such, I haven’t felt as much like documenting life in suburbia as they are a major part of it. I may subject everyone to some short fiction in the near future, so be warned. For now, however, I present an adventure in the culinary arts.
I’ve always enjoyed exotic edibles.
Growing up oysters, alligator, squid (I don’t call it calamari because I’m not afraid of what it is) and octopus were, if not staples, then certainly not rarities in our household. I was raised to try anything. To name just a few more unusual dishes, I’ve eaten rattlesnake (not worth it, too boney), turtle (I no longer eat it because I’ve had too many as pets), snails (taste like whatever you cook them in) and ostrich.
I love eating ostrich. There are two reasons for this. The first of all ostrich is delicious. It’s like very lean and tender steak. Secondly, I hate ostriches.
Ostriches are about the only thing that I am afraid of. This stems from an incident that occurred when I was little and my mother and I were at the zoo. Not an uncommon occurrence, we lived close and had a membership, so we would go all the time. This was during the 1970s when people were way less concerned with safety matters like, say, little boys being attacked by giant flightless birds, and so the ostriches could walk right up to the completely inadequate waist high fence that surrounded their enclosure. Which is exactly what one did, dipping its long, serpentine neck down and sticking its gaunt, skeletal face right into my stroller and looking at me with a softball sized eye. And you know the thing about an ostrich…he’s got dead eyes. Lifeless eyes. Like a doll’s eyes.
My family thinks my ostrich fear is hilarious and will occasional give me little stuffed animal ones as pets. About five years ago I was doing a 5k race through the zoo. With maybe a forth of a mile to go I ran past the ostrich enclosure and promptly torn a calf muscle. God I hate them so much.
Anyway, the early experience pretty much scared me for life, as you may have noticed, and now I eat those motherfuckers every chance I get. Every ostrich steak I consume is one less of my mortal enemy in the world.
That aside, I am adventurous when it comes to food.
A few weeks back we were in Chicago. While we were there we ate at a fantastic small-plates style restaurant called the Purple Pig. Everything we ate, and we ate a lot, was good but I was especially taken with their grilled octopus with green beans. When I got home I decided to try to recreate it.
One trip to the Asian market later I had three frozen octopi. I thawed them out and that’s when it got a little weird.
Octopuses are very…well…alien. We are used to seeing beef, pork, chicken and fish in our kitchens and even the parts and things that are identifiable as being parts and things of animals are familiar enough as to not be off-putting. Octopuses aren’t like that. They look, especially when out of the water, like something from another planet. Something that you’d have to shotgun in a video game or that would chase you around a space station trying to shove pseudopods down your throat in order to lay eggs in your chest. Yum.
I had the three cephalopods stretched out on the cutting board. They were each about a foot and a half long and, in all honesty, that’s a lot more octopus than I was figuring on. There were tentacles and sucker cups all over the place. Their oval shaped heads were just sitting there. They weren’t pulsing, not really but…in my imagination they sort of were.
I had to remove the tentacles from the heads, which I did, using my chef’s knife. As I am chopping away, cutting off long, twisted limbs and scooting the blubbery, jiggling heads away with the knife, I started wondering if octopuses, like some other animals, can survive extended periods of being frozen. I could see the tentacles rising up and wrapping around my wrist, wrenching the knife away and pulling my fingers in towards a snapping, gaping maw. I felt a little uneasy.
That’s when C came in, looked at my mess, and promptly turned green.
“Oh my god,” she said. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Octopus!” I said, standing there with a big knife in one hand a pile of purple pieces of viscera in front of me. “Like we talked about, you were there when we bought them.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I know. But I didn’t expect them to be so…”
She trailed off a little, averting her eyes from the parts on our island.
“Immediate?” I suggested, “Visceral?”
“Fucking gross,” she said.
She wasn’t wrong. For whatever reason, it felt much more like a dissection than food prep.
She couldn’t watch. I soldiered on.
I cooked some bacon in my ever faithful cast iron skillet. I removed said bacon and tossed my now sectioned off octopus tentacles into the skillet. I realized, after the fact, that octopus cooks like scallops do, by which I mean almost immediately. The pieces turned from the pale purple color to a more appetizing red, which I saw as a positive. I tossed in the green beans, cooked it all for longer than I should have, plated it, sprinkled the chopped up bacon on the top and dinner was served.
It wasn’t bad. I overcooked it, so it was chewy, but it tasted fine.
Neither one of us could get over the process though. It felt like eating a facehugger from the movie Aliens. The tentacles were chopped up but I could imagine them reforming in my stomach and slithering up my esophagus. C also had problems with the sucker cups, which were big, crunchy and, I thought, actually the best part.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “it actually tastes pretty good but after seeing it all raw and whole…I can’t eat it.”
I wasn’t disappointed. I was having difficulty myself, as every bite I took made me think again of those tentacles wrapping around my arm.
We ordered pizza. It was delicious.