Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Provencal Braised Octopus (Page 345)

RECIPE #1200

  • Date: Thursday, August 12, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Kitchen: Our House
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B-

They had frozen octopus at the fish market in Ann Arbor when I was there a few weeks ago, so I picked one up and threw it in the freezer to await the day when I would make this recipe. It sat in the freezer for more than a week before I finally motivated to braise it. It probably would have stayed in there even longer if it hadn't started to give the other things in the freezer a slight octopus smell. I first simmered the octopus whole in water, onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns. That step was easy, but unpleasant. For one thing, the octopus really smelled. Even our kittens were scared off by the smell -- they hid in the basement this entire time this was cooking. In addition to the smell, it was also pretty scary looking. Doesn't it look like the octopus is about to climb out of that pot and attack?

Despite those minor details I was feeling pretty OK about my octopus cooking experience. That is, until I got to the next step. I discarded the head of the octopus, then rubbed the purple outer coating, skin, and fatty layer off the octopus tentacles. It's hard to describe the textural nastiness involved in that task, other than to say that it was icky. Very icky. I cut the tentacles into pieces and set them aside. I then cooked some onion and garlic in olive oil. I added white wine, canned tomatoes, the octopus pieces, black olives, thyme, salt, pepper, and dried hot chiles. I braised it until the octopus was very tender, then served the dish over rice.

This dish was similar to my recent experience with beef tongue in the sense that if I hadn't prepared it, I probably would have liked it better. By the time I sat down to eat this dish I had a pretty bad attitude about it. I expected that I would like the sauce, but dislike the octopus. Actually, the exact opposite happened. In the moments when I could look past how nasty it was to prepare, the octopus was quite tasty. The typical problem with octopus is that it turns out very tough. In this preparation that was not the case at all. It was extremely tender -- the texture was lovely. Another victory for braising! And the octopus definitely tasted better than it smelled. The sauce, though, was tremendously dull. I liked all the ingredients that went into it, but the combination was bland and watery, with little depth to it. Neither my special gentleman nor I particularly cared for this dish. Were I to prepare octopus again I would definitely braise it, but braise it in a more flavorful sauce.

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Two full days of orientation later I am feeling quite a bit more oriented. Classes start one week from today, and I have a lot to do before then, but at least now I think I know what it is I need to do. Writing the lectures themselves is the easy part. When starting a new job it is trying to understand the administrative aspects of teaching that is the most daunting. I now have a basic understanding of the course management software, university policies having to do with teaching, etc... Certainly I can think of questions that I can't answer ("What is the policy and procedure for granting the grade of Incomplete?" or "What are the university-level consequences of an academic misconduct?"), but mostly they are the kinds of questions that are unlikely to arise in the first week!

I took in a lot of new information in the last week or so, and as I try to sort through it in my mind, various things stick out to me. One is a slogan that was brought up yesterday, at the university orientation for all new tenure-track faculty: "This job is not a marathon, it's a triathlon." The point of the comment was that there are multiple components of a professor's job, namely: research, teaching, and service. And in order to be successful one needs to achieve in all three areas, not just one. Most faculty members will tell you that finding the right balance is one of the most difficult parts of the job. The triathlon analogy struck a chord with me, and I will likely continue to think of it as I get further along in my career.

For now I will only worry about getting myself oriented and organized before the semester starts. Only one more week!


Jessica said...

That made me laugh! My family made octopus every Christmas Eve and I always refused to eat it as a child--something about the suckers always grossed me out.

Teena said...

Yeah, the suckers gross me out a little bit too!