Thursday, September 15, 2011

Grilled Baby Octopus

Our week in Nantucket was nearing an end. Vacation almost over. Not another to come for a long long time, and worse yet, that means that summer is almost over, and as much as I love fall and the holiday seasons, god damn, I get really tired of the winter after about the first big blizzard. Well, whatever. It's not over yet, and therefore, for our final night on the island, the bigger half and I went over to Bartlett Farms one last time, looking for something really special to cook for our final evening together. So romantic, right? All the friends had gone home, and it was time to spend some time with someone special. 
Seafood Truck at Bartlett Farms
Somebody like this guy! What a find! Our final night on the island, and bro dog shows up at the farm with his truck full of fresh seafood goodies. You got your halibut, your lobster, but we wanted something kind of unusual, something I can't find at home. And then Mr. Bro Dog says he's got a bag full of baby octopus which the fishermen occasionally get stuck in their nets and sell to people that like squishy creatures of the sea. Pack them up baby!
Baby octopus
Now, I've never cooked baby octopus before. I've never cleaned them before. I'll be honest, I've never touched one before. They are squishy and slimy little buggers, the ultimate bowl of yucky shit to touch if you're a little kid at Halloween. So after a few youtube videos on how to clean these, it was time to dive in to our little pile of cephalopod molluscs.
Cut off the legs
Step 1: Cut underneath the eyeballs, but just above where the legs begin. You want to cut off the legs whole so that we can get to step 2.
Step 2: Grab the legs, and push out the little hard bit that lies at the center of the eight limbs. This is the beak. Once this is popped out and removed, you can move onto step 3.
Off with her head!
Step 3: Cut just above the eyes, as close as you can get. The trick here is that you don't want to cut into the ink sack, which acts as the plume of gunk that allows the octopus to escape mean old predators. If you cut into the ink sack, it's ok, but things get nasty, brown and murky real quick. 
Cut out the eye piece and discard
Step 4: Alright, so you've cut off the eyes, and now you can discard that piece. Whether or not you've cut into the ink sack, you're going to want to remove all that yuckiness, including the guts, from the head of the 'pus. There are a few little bands holding everything in there. If you can find and break those with your fingers, you're golden.
Step 5: Rinse your hands and the empty head. Both are probably pretty nasty by now.
Remove the skin from the head
Step 6: You want to remove the skin from the head. This little filmy layer lies on top of the actual flesh, and if you get a good grip, it peels away easily. It was actually kind of fun. Now you're done cleaning your first octopus. Success.
At this point, having cleaned about ten little octopus babies, we decided that we really should have prepared the marinade before hand. But we didn't have the foresight with all those slimy critters lying around. So, in a slightly backward fashion, we began actually adhering to a recipe found on NPR's website, labeled "Grilled Baby Octopus in the Manner of Uncle Nick's." The marinade is simple to prepare. Combine 1/3 of a cup balsalmic vinegar, 1/4 cup of olive oil, salt and pepper, and throw into a plastic zip lock bag. We also added a little bit of chopped hot red pepper to make things interesting. 
Our little pile of 'pus,
ready for blanching
You will also have to sort of blanch the octopus. Place them in a heat-proof bowl, boil some water, and then pour the boiling water to submerge the octopus. Let them sit for about 90 seconds, then drain and place in the marinade for up to four hours. While the octopus concotion chills in the fridge, you can also go ahead and soak a bunch of long wooden skewers, because these babies are going to end up on the grill. 
After four hours, we heated some coal in a chimney, and after they were glowing red and ready for prime time, we poured them into our little grill. Each octopus had been removed from the sweet marinade, and skewered. Onto the grill you guys go. Basting throughout, we waited for one side to get a little charred, about four minutes. And then onto the other side, basting again. After this quick sear, cooking too long would make them tough, we removed the little beauties from the grill and their skewers. 
Grilled octopus
Man were these things delicious. After a final little squirt of lemon, they were tender, not chewy in the least. They were sweet from the balsalmic marinade, but also they were just plain sweet, because (and you may disagree), I think that properly prepared, marinated and grilled octopus taste kind of like conch. Like teeny, cheap conch. If you get past the slimy factor, and the nasty factor of cleaning, and then have four hours to sit around and marinade something awesome, you're really in for a treat. 

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