The family, that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor in our innermost hearts ever quite wish to.
~ Dodie Smith
Dad held it up with a big pair of tongs, and together we slid it into a strong plastic bag. Slimy, sticky and big, the slippery mass smelled of the sea, and reminded me of… well, aliens and sea monsters. Fictional aliens with oval heads and slit eyes. Loch Ness. A giant squid chewing on innocent sailors. Half dazed, I marched up to the counter with the octopus (3kg, $38). The cashier looked a little surprised too but she smiled and told me it would be delicious.
Hours later, as the sunlight waned, I worked in the now dim kitchen; imagining my Grandma as a young girl, sitting by the porridge pot. I thought about all the women around the world who spend hours cooking on a daily basis. I thought of full and empty tummies. And yes, I thought a little bit about aliens, though I scarcely ever do. ;-)
The 800g of onions I peeled for this dish demanded my tears.
My fingers jerked with shock and slight repulsion as I worked with the octopus on the chopping board (reasons I could never be a surgeon).
Once I started cooking though, did it smell good, oh yes, yes it did! It was wonderful inhaling all the rich goodness of cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, chilli, red wine, red wine vinegar, garlic, onions, tomatoes, olive oil, mixed spice… the flavour seemed to wrap around the air like a tight red dress; leaving you no room to breathe, but in a gorgeous breathtaking way. While the octopus cooked, I sipped green tea and read more of Amy Tan’s “Saving Fish from Drowning”, drowning a little myself in the good smell…
The final meal I shared with my parents made it all (crying over onions, worrying over octopus dissection, etc) so terribly worthwhile. (They really enjoyed it too).
If you’re after a wonderful and distinctive meal, you will find it in this recipe from Tessa Kiros’ “Falling Cloudberries”:
#44 Octopus Stifado (Octopus with Onions & Red Wine) – Page 97
Modifications: I modified the recipe slightly for quantity (I only cooked half the octopus as well) and substituted pimento berries (which I couldn’t find) with mixed spice powder. I also added 4 extra cloves of garlic to what the recipe suggested.
I served it with a light salad and toasted hot cross buns. (We didn’t eat much of the salad… the octopus and bread were way filling!)
Salad ingredients: mesclun leaves, 5 cherry tomatoes – halved, 1 pear – sliced, juice of half a lemon, zest of half a lemon, some cucumber – sliced, 2 twists of black pepper.