Last summer I came across a recipe for grilled baby octopus. I've been wanting to try this recipe ever since so last Saturday I went to Mekong Plaza, a local Asian market, with my brother Matt and picked up a pound of baby octopus.
The octopus needed to marinate for a few hours before grilling, so during my lunch break today I came home to defrost and prepare the octopus. It was a really weird experience. Whenever I cook any kind of animal -- like beef or chicken (I don't cook much fish or seafood) -- it's usually just a portion of the animal and that doesn't really give me much of an idea of what the animal may have looked like. On the other hand, with these little guys (each octopus was about six to eight inches long), here I was handling the animal in its entirety (minus most of the guts which had been removed from the head). I gained a new-found respect: respect for the butchers and chefs who prepare most of the meat that I eat; but mostly respect for this small, delicate, so interesting sea creature, whose life had been taken so I could eat it.
When you're dealing with the entire animal, it's very hard to ignore that this was once a living, breathing organism. Nor should you ignore that, animals should be consumed -- if that's your thing -- with thanksgiving.
I posted a photo of one of the octopuses* on Instagram and I was sort of surprised by some of my friends' comments. Sure, I will readily acknowledge that purchasing, preparing, cooking, and eating fresh octopus is a bit gnarly. But I didn't expect very many of my friends to vocalize how gross they thought it was. Which is totally fine -- I get and respect that tastes differ from human to human. For example, I think bananas, a typically normal food by western standards, are gross. Perhaps I'm more open than most when it comes to seafood. I grew up in a family that ate seafood pretty regularly. And recently I've been accompanying my friends Jeremy and Buster on a quest to find the best sushi in Phoenix. So after sampling shrimp heads, fish eyes, monkfish liver, jellyfish, sea urchin, and more, fresh octopus doesn't seem so weird.
I'm only just realizing this, but I'm actually a pretty daring person when it comes to what I'm willing to eat. Which is awesome because daring isn't a word I would use to normally describe myself.
I'm not too interested in trying this recipe again. The payoff could have been greater: while the taste was decent, it was just too chewy (as octopus is known to be) and not terribly easy to eat. But it was a fun experience cooking and eating something new. Most of all, I'm grateful for the respect I gained for those who prepare my meat and for the animals whose lives are taken so I can eat them.
*Contrary to common parlance, the plural for octopus is not octopi. It's octopuses.