In love, you have loosened yourself like seawater.
~Pablo Neruda

From the from Greek ὀκτάπους (oktapous, “eight-footed”), the octopus is a cephalopod mollusk of the order Octopoda that inhabits diverse reaches of the ocean, including coral reefs, pelagic waters, and the sea floor.

There are some 300 species of these complex, supremely intelligent creatures — thought to be the Einsteins of invertebrates. These species are divided into two groups, the Cirrina and the Incirrina. The Cirrina are characterized by having two fins on their head, a small internal shell, and cirri, small cilia-like filaments on their arms with a pair of cirri adjacent to each sucker. The Incirrina, the benthic octopuses and argonauts, include many of the better known species, most of which are bottom dwellers.

All have two keen eyes one of which is dominant, four pairs of sensitive, neuron laden arms with dexterous suction cups that taste as well as feel, three hearts with two pumping blood to the gills while a third circulates it to the rest of the body, and a beak that exudes neurotoxins. As a species, octopuses are bilaterally symmetric meaning they can be divided into roughly mirror image halves. Researchers are becoming convinced that these boneless, ancient creatures have developed intellect, emotion, and personality. Even a sense of cephalopod consciousness.

Octopus have relatively short life spans ranging from 6 months to 5 years. But, it should be remembered that coitus is lethal, a direct cause of octopus demise as most males only survive for a few months after mating, and females die shortly after their eggs hatch (following a brief bout with senility). What a Hobson’s choice: live a longer, celibate life or copulate and die sooner?

Octopuses, octopi, octopodes have uncanny methods of escape. Mimicry and camouflage are aided by chameleonic skin cells which change the colors, opacity, textures, pigments and reflectiveness of their epidermis. Shifting shapes and changing hues, they adroitly merge into their surroundings, hidden from predators. Other times, octopi flee rapidly by propulsion ejecting a thick, blackish ink in a large melanin cloud which actually reduces the efficacy of their predators’ olfactory organs. Since they have no internal or external shell or bones, they can manipulate their body to fit into bizzarely minute crevices. Finally, they can sever appendages as a self-defense mechanism designed to elude a predator’s grasp, and the lost body part may be regenerated later.

Despite the suggestion, baby octopus are not the young of adults. Rather, they are full grown, mature critters which are just a diminutive species.

PREP(S)

If the octopus is frozen, defrost thoroughly.

Should the octopus still have their heads, remove and discard the head or clean the inside of the head and discard the beak. Either sever and discard the heads or keep them attached. If you choose to keep the head on, however, make sure it is cleaned out by making a shallow cut along the head, being careful not to cut too deep and puncture the innards, then carefully but firmly pull out everything inside -or- cut the head off, turn it inside out and use a paring knife to scrape away the innards. Clearer heads prevail here.

If a small black, triangular beak does not come out along with everything else, then insert your finger up through the middle of the body and push it out or extract it. Rinse the octopus well under cold water and set aside.

GRILLED BABY OCTOPUS & LEMON VINAIGRETTE

2 lbs baby octopus

Marinade
1/2 C olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vinaigrette
1 C extra virgin olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T Dijon mustard
2 t fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1 T plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1/2 t honey
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Finish
Grated fresh lemon peel
Chopped flat leaf parsley
Artisanal bread slices, grilled or toasted
Garlic head or tomato, sliced transversely

Vigorously whisk all vinaigrette ingredients in a glass bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper to your liking, then set aside. This can be done the day before.

In a large, heavy pot over high heat, bring water to a boil. Turn the heat off and dump the octopus into the pot. Allow to poach for one minute then drain immediately through a colander. Rinse with cold water and dry well on towels.

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and combine with the octopi in a large, heavy plastic bag, then seal. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Remove octopus and allow to reach room temperature. Soak wooden skewers in water. Meanwhile, heat grill to medium high. Consider placing some fresh rosemary sprigs in the fire just before grilling. Skewer a few octopus on each skewer, and then grill about 3 minutes per side, turning once.

Remove from the grill, drizzle with the vinaigrette to your liking and top with grated lemon peel and chopped parsley. Serve over grilled bread slices which have been brushed with olive oil and rubbed with an open head of garlic or fresh tomato before placing on the grill.

KOREAN GRILLED BABY OCTOPUS (JJUKKUMI GUI)

2 lbs baby octopus

Marinade
1/3 C ssamjang (bean and chili paste)
2 T kochujang (chili paste)
3 t gochugaru (red pepper flakes)
2 T shoyu (soy sauce)
2 T mirin
1 T sherry vinegar
1 T canola oil
1/3 C honey
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t fresh ginger, finely grated
2 T sesame oil

Finish
English cucumber, peeled and cut into julienne strips or thinly sliced into disks
2 T white sesame seeds, toasted

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and then pour over the octopus and mix to coat well in a large, heavy plastic bag. Seal, then marinate for 4 hours, preferably overnight, in the fridge. Remove the octopus and allow to reach room temperature. Heat a charcoal grill to medium high and cook for about 3 minutes per side, turning once. Serve promptly strewn with the cucumber strips or slices and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Pourboire: Grill temperature is best assessed by using the traditional hand test. Hold your open hand, palm down, about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it — for medium high, about 2-3 seconds.