I try not to be insensitive to people’s feelings, but as I get older, my “offend people meter” seems to be out of kilter at times. Several Christmases ago, I invited a new friend to join our family and friends at my parents home for our annual Christmas Eve party. His girlfriend was going to be coming to town, and we were all excited to meet her. Several days before the party, I ran into him in the parking lot of the store that shall remain nameless, and he asked if he could bring anything.
Reid Brewer was the new Marine Advisory Agent assigned to Unalaska. I knew he was a diver. When someone asks if they can bring anything, I usually say, “No – just bring yourself.” For some reason, I guess because I knew Reid did his thesis on octopus, I thought that would be a good idea so I said if he happened across an octopus, my mom and dad would love it if he brought them one to prepare. And then I thought no more about the encounter.
The day before the party is a day I usually spend helping mom prepare the ridiculous amounts of food that grace the buffets and tables at her home. My dad came in from outside, and said some scruffy looking fisherman had just come up to him in the yard, handed him a bag, and said that Sharon had asked him to deliver it to them. (My dad either did not remember Reid, or that day Reid was so scruffy looking, my dad did not recognize him!) Since I don’t typically consort with scruffy fishermen, I was more than a bit puzzled. The mystery was solved when we opened the bag and discovered the octopus.
So, we fixed it up. The rest of the story is that Reid had NEVER eaten an octopus, let alone killed one. The octopus came from his saltwater tank where he holds specimens for a time (before releasing them, I’m sure). His girlfriend had become attached to the octopus. The octopus died of natural causes (at least we hope it did, since we did consume it). Reid did eat octopus that Christmas Eve. I don’t know if Reid has ever forgiven me. Yeah, he says he does, but does anyone really know what another person is really thinking? I do know that Reid has allowed me to introduce him to other intertidal foods. I feel fairly safe in doing so, as I believe he only wrote one thesis.
The octopus is a mollusk, along with clams, snails, and oysters. It belongs to this group because of its small, sharp beak. Thirty-some species of octopus flit and undulate around Alaskan waters, the largest being the giant Pacific octopus whose tentacles can span 32 feet.
Catch an octopus at low tide or in a crab pot. To clean it, turn the body inside out and pull away the entrails and bone-like strips. Locate the stomach sac and cut it away. Discard all this stuff. Next, locate the beak which is typically in the middle of the tentacles. (Don’t get all creeped out – this is all pretty straight forward.) Push the beak out with your finger so that it extends far enought to cut it out of the soft flesh surrounding it. Discard the beak, or clean it up and use it for an art project! Rinse the meat under cold running water until it is not slimey.
After cleaning the octopus, you can tenderize it by beating the meat until it is half its starting thickness. We don’t typically do this as fresh octopus is tender enough for us. Boil the octopus in salted water for 25-45 minutes, depending on its size. I use sea salt. Slice the octopus and serve it either hot or cold. You can make a soy dipping sauce enhanced with hot mustard or wasabi. Octopus is also really tasty when drizzled with seal oil.
Use your imagination. Make an octopus chowder. Eva Tcheripanioff has a really good octopus recipe for an octopus casserole. Make an octopus gumbo. Fried octopus, on occasion, is great. Octopus freezes very well after it has been boiled. Vacuum pack it for best results.