Know How Things Are Meant To Be Cooked Before You Cook Them

It must be hard being a sea creature.

More and more people every day are turning off meat. They consider the practice of devouring another animal’s flesh barbaric. They chastise you if you order a steak. They tut if you ask for bacon with that. They sigh if you look at a devil wing in an inappropriate manner.

But for most of these people, put a plate of cod in front of them. It’ll be gone quicker than you can say soy bean latte.

The line between vegetarian and pescetarian is being blurred more than ever. It’s simply not safe to be a halibut anymore. And think of what message this gives the animals of the sea, to be lumped in with fruits and vegetables. If a person is on life support, their loved ones are told through clenched teeth and wet eyes that they might spend the rest of their life as a vegetable. A flounder on the other hand apparently doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

It’s ridiculous, let’s look at some pictures of the beautiful species of the deep blue….

Jesus. That’s hideous. Okay, okay, let’s type in beautiful ocean animals and….

Good God. Okay, let’s not panic. Give me a second. Let’s look up octopus/squid and see what…

Okay, you know what, this isn’t helping. Let’s move on…

Recently I performed a protest of my own. Let me pre-empt some questions.

Did I swim with the dolphins near heavily populated tuna catchments? Not quite.

Did I swear off seafood altogether? Well, swearing is such an altogether word.

No, on a balmy Tuesday night I sashayed down to my local fishmonger and purchased a kilo of Baby Octopus. I then cooked them and ate them. Because I’m a meat eater, and I didn’t want fruit or vegetables, I wanted some seafood, which is a meat.

I’m sure the sea approves.

To be quite honest I simply wanted to say I was going to the fishmongers. I rarely visit mongers of any variety and I thought what better to eat for dinner than seafood tossed precariously on melting ice on a 35 degree day from a man who had a moustache that had its own file in the sex offenders unit.

So I went down to the Fishmongers after work and discovered to my delight that Baby Octopus were on sale. Eight dollars for a kilo, what a steal. It needn’t be mentioned that the price could have been Eighty dollars and I would’ve nodded and said to a fellow crustacianophile (I sincerely hope that is not a word), “Good price for them today.” I have no idea what a good price for Octopus is. While I admire the knowledge of value on a wide range of things, if I was in a conversation with someone and they mentioned the price of Baby Octopus, be it good or bad, I probably would have received a call from Billy.

(FYI, Billy is a friend (who may or may not exist) who always calls me when I’m in the middle of a conversation I would rather poke my eyes out with salad tongs than be in. His kid/dog/surfboard/wife/mother/4WD is usually sick and I’m needed immediately)

I digress. Baby Octopus.

I snaffled up a kilo of Baby Octopus on special. A bargain is a bargain is a bargain. Sure, I’ve only really had it a few times and while I enjoyed it, I can’t help thinking if a UFO arrived on Planet Earth and out came millions of Baby Octopus, well, I wouldn’t be surprised, put it that way.

On my way home I felt the sun beating down on my brow yet thought little of it. Why should I? I’d just been to the fishmongers. Certainly the fishmonger and his fishmongerlings gave me funny looks as they threw most of the stock into the bin while I cheerfully purchased bulk mollusc in the most precarious of conditions, but even that couldn’t dampen my spirits. It could dampen my bag, which had begun to leak a substance illegal in most states, but still I kept moving, eager to feast on the octopi at my disposal.

This all changed when I got home, I realised I had no idea how to cook Baby Octopus.

Twist.

I remembered once a dish I had described them as being ‘grilled’ so I decided immediately to cook them in the pan. Still to this day I have no idea what led me to do this, but if you’re provided a musical score to this story, this is where the strings in  C would turn into strings in Cm and duh duh…..duh duh……duh duh would commence.

So on the pan they went, along with chilli and coriander and enough oil to endanger The East Coast. It was about 3-4 minutes into the cooking process, or as I like to call it the ‘I’m-starting-to-realise-how-shite-I-am-at-cooking’ period when it dawned on me. I had no idea at what point Octopus is cooked.

I learnt early on I like a little pink in my beef. I enjoy a little moisture in my pork. I like my chicken not to kill me, simple things. But my mother never sat me down and said,

“Andrew, let me tell you how to cook baby octopus.”

Never happened, never got close. Thinking about it now she was terrified of most sea animals that didn’t have gills, especially crustaceans. Be it yabbies, crabs, Tim Bailey, she couldn’t be doing it.

So as the flames lick at my frying pan, I start to panic as I see the little tentacles begin to wilt. And I do the unthinkable. I guess at cooking seafood. And I guess early.

Baby Oc off. That’ll do. They feel firm to touch, but then again I have no idea if this is a good thing. The only cooking show I’ve ever indulged heavily in was Huey’s Cooking Adventures, where the phrase ‘and add a stick of butter’ was a catchphrase. Huey never said Baby Octopus needed to be cooked for a certain amount of time. Huey was too busy stuffing chickens with legs of ham to give seafood tips. So I put the Baby Oc on my plate, cleaned the pan and sat down in front of them.

I’m not sure what it was, but I felt a level of kismet with them that you don’t get from other meals. Sure, in their own way they’re grotesque, sitting on the plate with their heads cut open, perhaps a little brain oozing…..

Actually no, there was no kismet. Baby Octopus look disgusting sitting on an empty plate and so I tucked in before I realised what I was eating.

The legs were tasty, the head was tasty. Firm but not burnt, I felt confident.

But the area between the legs and the head, what could best be described as the neck, wasn’t any of those things. It was a little soft. Right through the middle one could even describe it was still a little slimy. Naturally, when you suspect something might be undercooked you cook it more right.

Wrong. With my signature combination of gluttony and laziness with a hint of arrogance and a splash of gastronomic procrastination I ploughed through, one Baby Octopus at a time until the plate that once looked like plastic figures used to scare children at Halloween was empty.

According to my research, and I must stress much of it is sketchy, based largely on hearsay, guesswork, and episodes of The Curiosity Show on youtube, an octopus can travel at 30kph when pushed, assumedly when chased by a shark or Aquaman. No data exists regarding the speed baby octopus can travel when eaten, possibly off and probably undercooked.

My prognosis is; very quickly.

It was biblical. It was unpleasant. And no sooner had my meal finished than the purging began. Those Baby Octopi moved, and they moved fast.

So.

Andrew knows steak can be cooked a little bloody.

He knows broccoli can be cooked a little crunchy.

He knows pasta can be cooked al dente.

And now Andrew knows Baby Octopus should be firm and cooked through, largely because he enjoys seeing a meal only before it goes in. He is not eager to be reacquainted quite so quickly with it after.

Lesson 1. Know how things are meant to be cooked before you cook them.

Until next time, as my mother always said in crowded clothes shops, always try on a pair of pants to make sure you have enough room in the crotch.

Andrew.

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