Sunday, March 24, 2019

Iron Chef: Octopus

If memory serves me right, it has been a long time since I have stepped foot in Savage Bolek Kitchen Stadium.  My last challenger -- Radish Sprouts -- got the better of me.  While the three dishes each highlighted a certain creativity (for who would have ever thought of a radish sprout broth), the execution fell short of the expectations that I had set for myself. 

After that challenge, I decided to take a sabbatical from the Iron Chef battles. I needed to work on my creativity, my skills and my dishes.  As the days, weeks and months passed, I spent my time trying new foods, cooking with new ingredients, and honing my skills. 

But, as helpful as this time away from Savage Bolek Kitchen Stadium has been, the Iron Chef must return to face another challenger.  A challenger who could be as creative and crafty as the Iron Chef.  Coming from far away, this challenger will present the Iron Chef with many more opportunities to express not only his creativity, but his love for cuisines around the world.

Allow me to introduce the challenger ... OCTOPUS. 


The first course is a nod to Japanese cuisine, with Taku Su, a cold salad that combines octopus with cucumbers and seaweed.  All of the ingredients are tied together with a vinaigrette of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar with sugar and salt to round out the taste .

Recipe from Just One Cookbook
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the octopus):
1/4 pound octopus cooked, sliced thinly
1/2 English Cucumber
1/2 tablespoon dried wakame seaweed
1/2 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds

Ingredients (for the vinaigrette):
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds

1.  Prepare the octopus. Slice the octopus very thinly.  

2. Prepare the cucumber.  Alternatively peel a 1/2 inch side strip lengthwise, leaving a strip intact.  With this method, the cucumber slices have some decorative dark green accents and a little bit of extra crunchiness.  Cut the cucumber into small pieces using the cutting technique Rangiri.

3.  Prepare the seaweed.  In a small bowl, soak the dried seaweed in warm water.  Let it soak for 15 minutes.  Drain and squeeze the liquid out.  Set aside.

4.  Prepare the vinaigrette.  In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

5.  Finish the dish.  Add the cucumber, octopus, seaweed and sesame seeds and toss all together.  Chill in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes.  Serve immediately.  


The second course takes its inspiration from Mexican cuisine, with the octopus being served with a sauce featuring the smoky heat of ancho chiles and the sweetness of honey.  Much like the Tako Su, the mild flavors of the octopus work as a tableau upon which the flavors of the sauce can show themselves.  The hardest part is making sure that the octopus itself, as the secret ingredient, is not eclipsed by that sauce. 

Recipe adapted from Tom Colicchio
Serves 2

Ingredients (for the octopus):
1/2 pound octopus tentacle, cooked

Ingredients (for the sauce):
2 dried ancho chiles
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons of honey
1/8 cup of grapeseed oil or vegetable oil

1.  Prepare the sauce.  Toast the chiles over moderate heat, turning, until fragrant and pliable, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the vinegar, honey and garlic and bring just to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and let stand until the chiles are softened, about 20 minutes.  transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.  With the machine on, add the grapeseed or vegetable oil until incorporated.  Season the sauce with salt.

2.  Prepare the grill or broiler.  Heart the grill or broiler.  Grill the cooked tentacle until the suckers start to crisp and brown around all of the edges, about 4 minutes.


For the final dish, I draw upon Hawaiian cuisine.  This is a play on the popular dish of Ahi Poke; however, instead of the rare tuna being the star of the poke, it is octopus.  The avocado, tomato and onions in this dish, combined with the lemon juice, provide a very bright background that allows the octopus to take the center stage.  The fish sauce provides that salty, umami flavor that rounds out the dish . 

Recipe adapted from Cookpad
Serves 2

1/2 pound octopus tentacle, cooked
1 avocado
1/2 tomato
1/4 onion
1 bunch green onions
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 clove grated garlic
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil

1. Prepare the avocado. Pit the avocado, peel and dice.  Put the diced avocado into a bowl and mix with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to prevent discoloring.

2.  Prepare the onion.  Cut the onion in half and slice thinly along the grain.

3.  Prepare the octopus.  Slice the octopus.  Put it in a bowl and mix with the fish sauce and garlic.

4.  Prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Cut the tomato roughly and chop a generous amount of green onions.

5.  Combine ingredients: Put the avocado, onion, tomato, green onions, sesame oil and white sesame seeds in a bowl and mix.  Chill in the refrigerator.

6.  Plate the dish.  Just before plating, add the octopus and mix well.  

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