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.

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Grilling, broiling, barbecuing – whatever you want to call it – is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.
~James Beard

One of those Elysian Fields. The Central Coast is an idyllic stretch of California, roughly spanning the area from the Monterey Bay through Santa Barbara. Ruggedly bewitching: with broad shouldered beaches, craggy vistas, serene tangerine-salmon sunsets, lofty valleys, closely cropped chapparal, patterned vineyards, hay-hued hills with solitary oaks, crisply scented eucalyptus belts, fecund avocado groves, herbal aromas, quaint inns and high end resorts. The Central Coast is also home to the heralded Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Paso Robles, and Monterey wine countries.

On this coastal stretch, located in the center of Santa Maria Valley lies the town of Santa Maria, the largest city in Santa Barbara County—80 miles north of Santa Barbara proper and 30 miles south of San Louis Obispo. Not only does Santa Maria rightly boast of its own breed of vaquero barbeque, its wineries produce exquisitely complex pinot noirs. Pinot loves a cool climate, and the conditions in Santa Maria Valley deliver. Constant ocean breezes coupled with an east to west transverse geography that channels the cool air into the valley combine to foster a long growing season for this most delicate and temperamental grape.

Miles, the protagonist from the engaging film Sideways, described pinot as “transcendent,” noting that it is a grape that “needs constant attention…(I)t’s not a survivor like cabernet which can be grown anywhere.” Compared to their northern neighbors in the Russian River, Santa Maria wineries are considered the nouveau riche of pinot noir with a tendency toward to experimentation. At the pour, Santa Maria pinots exalt in lavender, orange peel, sandalwood, wild strawberry, berries, cherry, rhubarb, and anise.

Tri-tip is a roast cut from the bottom of the sirloin primal. There is only one tri-tip per side of beef (a total of two per animal). In this country, tri-tip also answers to “bottom sirloin butt” and “triangle roast”, due to its triangular shape. It is a nicely marbled, tender, and robustly flavored cut which weighs about 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pounds trimmed and measures around 3″ thick. Look for a tri-tip that still includes the fat on one side which will make it a little heavier than the norm.

The American origin of the tri-tip cut is believed largely happenstance and rooted in Santa Maria. There, as elsewhere, butchers would customarily carve beef loins into sections of preferred top block sirloin and filet, and then set aside the triangular shaped tips for stew cubes or hamburger. Then, sometime in the 1950’s, on a day when there was an overabundance of stew chunks and hamburger (and the triangular cut was about to be trashed) a local meat market manager experimented by placing a seasoned whole piece of the “unwanted” meat on the department’s rotisserie rack. An immediate hit with his guinea pig staff, he undertook a successful marketing campaign with this now cherished cut. The rest is history…well, recent history. A baby boomer dish.

Tri-tip marinades well and can be cooked on a grill, on a rotisserie, or roasted in an oven. Marinades usually contain an acidic ingredient, such as citrus juice, vinegar or wine. The acid breaks down the meat fibers some, but only at the surface.

Marinades are are usually founded upon the sum of: acid + salt + alliums + sugars + chiles + herbs. But, the variations on this basic equation are endless. Below are two marinades that couple well with tri-tip with a single grilling method for both.

GRILLED TRI-TIP

Asian Marinade
1/4 C soy sauce
1/4 C nuoc mam chay pha san
2 T oyster sauce
2 T sesame oil
4 T Chinese black vinegar
2 T peeled and minced ginger
1 T five spice powder
8 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 yellow onion, peeled and minced
Juice of 3 fresh limes
1/2 C chile oil or canola oil
Abundant freshly ground coarse red, white, green and black peppercorns

In a large, heavy duty zip lock bag, combine all ingredients. Seal, squeezing out excess air, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Turn several times during the marinating process to make sure the meat is well coated. Let stand until it reaches room temperature before grilling.

Chile Marinade
Juice of 2 fresh limes
Juice of 1 fresh orange
3 T ground cumin
3 T ground coriander
2 T dried oregano
2 T chipotle chile powder
1 t ground cayenne pepper
8 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely diced
1 small bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 C red wine vinegar
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

In a large, heavy duty zip lock bag, combine all ingredients. Seal, squeezing out excess air, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Turn several times during the marinating process to make sure the meat is well coated. Let stand until it reaches room temperature before grilling.

Grilling
Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium high heat. Toss in a couple of small chunks of pre soaked smoking wood (red oak is traditional) to the coals or smoker box. Put the roast on away from the heat and close the lid.

Cook the tri-tip for about 10 to 12 minutes per pound, turning every 5 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches near 130 F—the land of medium rare. Because tri-tip is so lean, cooking beyond this point will render it tough.

Let stand for at least 15 minutes before carving, and then savor with a regional pinot noir (preferably one of those Santa Maria lasses).

Life, Chicken & Potatoes

April 10, 2009

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
~Mae West

Food and friends, past and present, in chronology.

pho-bi-a, n. a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it. [1780-1790; extracted from nouns ending in -PHOBIA]

My amigo soulmate of years ago, Joe, died suddenly and unexpectedly at a much too young age. It was a spirit-shattering, life-bending, scarring tragedy for all of us who adored him. An eternal gut punch. So many things sadly unsaid and experiences lost.

Before his untimely exit, Joe schooled me on the perserverance and confidence needed to grill poultry. Until I studied him manning the ‘que, I suffered from that common, yet unfounded, psychic malady—fear of burned chicken. I listened and watched intently as he fostered patience, steadiness, forbearance and fearlessness at the grill.

A few learned tips: (1) have a somewhat gentle, but not waning, fire (2) stoically resist the natural temptation of repetitive turning, moving, pressing the chicken as this releases those ambrosial juices—potentially causing wildfires and also drying the bird; (3) open the bottom vents on the barbeque, but keep any top or side vents closed while cooking; (4) keep the lid on the kettle as much as possible as the heat and grilling smoke which is “basting” your fowl will simply evaporate into thin air; (5) somewhat contrary to (4), stand sentry—keep an occasional eye on the meat to assure no raging bonfires have developed; (6) do not apply glazes or sauces that have a sugar base until the very end of the cooking process, and paint on in layers, creating tiers of caramelized flavors. (Also, see the post On Grilling).

Since his euphemistic passing, many have unknowingly reaped the benefits of Joe’s tutelage.

GRILLED CHICKEN

Citrus glaze:
1/2 C fresh lime juice
1 1/2 C fresh orange juice
1/4 C soy sauce
1/2 C honey

In a small heavy saucepan, boil ingredients until reduced to 1 cup. Set aside.

Marinade:
1/2 C fresh lime juice
1/2 C fresh orange juice
3 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and minced finely
1/3 C fresh oregano, chopped
1/3 C fresh cilantro, chopped
3 fresh jalapeños, stemmed and diced
2 t dried red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together first ingredients until well mixed. Then, slowly drizzle in olive oil in a narrow stream while whisking vigorously. Set aside.

Chicken:
Fresh, organic, free range chicken (either leg thigh quarters or whole chicken cut into 8 pieces)
Several sprigs of rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken in large flat dish and pour marinade over, turning to coat liberally. A large ziploc bag works well too. Cover, refrigerate and let chicken marinade, turning occasionally for a few hours or even overnight. Bring to room temperature in marinade before grilling. Remove chicken from marinade and discard marinade.

Prepare grill to medium (to medium high) heat. Before placing the chicken on the grill, arrange some rosemary sprigs on the edges of the fire. Grill chicken until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Brush thoroughly with glaze and grill 2-5 minutes longer. Remove and transfer to platter.

POTATO SALAD CHEZ ARLENE

My dear friend Arlene lives in the country on a horse farm…a serene, pastoral setting with verdant pastures, specked with ponds and crisscrossed with wooden fences. Her home is perched at the summit of an otherwise flat county, sprawling with almost nothing but windows facing western skies reminiscent of Constable canvasses—blue sunrises, fierce orange, light grey and cobalt sunsets, potent anvil-head storms rolling in from the plains bearing who knows what, puffy white clouds dotting the tranquil sky, lunar bathings. All is centered around these immaculate horse stables, housing tmagnificent, neatly groomed, finely pedigreed beasts who do this ballet called dressage.

A wing of the home is devoted to music. It has soothing curved ceilings, an audiophile’s dream of a sound system with speakers larger than a grown man, ergonomic chairs—a room lined with exalted fine art, books, CDs and, of course, brimming with music. Listening to Mahler’s No. 6 there may well best a symphony hall. A night at Arlene’s is spent cooking, eating, imbibing, and retiring to the Music Room, discussing the world’s feats and woes well into the morning hours.

Arlene and I really met during dark moments in both of our lives. She coddled and helped to heal me. Along the way, she introduced to me to an unparalleled potato salad.

3 lbs red potatoes
6 organic, free range eggs

1 large bunch fresh radishes, rinsed, scrubbed and thinly sliced
2 small bunches green onions, rinsed and sliced, 2″ of tops trimmed off

1 C mayonaisse, either homemade (see Mayonaisse post) or Hellman’s prepared
1/2 C dijon mustard
3 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 C capers

Sea salt & freshly ground pepper

Place potatoes into a large heavy bottomed pot. Cover with cold water and place over high heat. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and remove lid. Gently simmer until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and place in an ice bath to cool, then promptly drain and dry thoroughly. Slice potatoes, but not overly thin.

Place eggs in a heavy large saucepan. Cover with cold water, cover with lid and place over high heat. At the first serious boil, remove the pan from heat and let stand 14 minutes, still covered. Drain and place in an ice bath to cool, then remove and dry. Thinly slice the boiled eggs.

In a large bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard and balsamic vinegar to taste; then add the potatoes, radishes, green onions, boiled eggs and capers. Roll up your sleeves and mix well with both hands (or employ a friend). Season with salt and pepper early on so you can taste to your liking. You may need to add more mayonnaise and mustard to reach the right moisture level. As with all salads, the ingredients should be nicely coated, but not swimming or soggy.

Dry Rub A Dub

February 6, 2009

The food in such places is so tasteless because the members associate spices and garlic with just the sort of people they’re trying to keep out.
~Calvin Trillin

Today, spring-like weather bathed the city, evoking the seductive melody of vividly blossoming daffodils, azaleas, red buds, lilacs, forsythia…coupled with the aroma of active grills and barbeques.

A dry rub is simply a mélange of spices and herbs that imparts variegated flavors, scents and textures to meat, even the occasional vegetable. They are not to be confused with (but sometimes are married to) their moist but equally alluring cousins—marinades, glazes, sauces, wet rubs, bastes, sops, or mops. Only imagination limits the composition of your rubs, so put the grey matter to work and concote your own favorites.

With all of these rubs, first combine dry ingredients in a bowl or jar. Rub cut fresh, plump, cut garlic cloves into meat. Then gently massage the combined dry rub ingredients into the meat tissues. Let stand for an hour or more before cooking.

Ancho, Coffee and Cocoa Rub

2 T ancho chili powder
2 T instant espresso powder
2 T golden or dark brown sugar
1 T cocoa
1 T ground coriander
1 T dried oregano
2 t salt
1 T black pepper and/or white pepper
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Basic Barbeque Rub

2 T sea salt
4 T light brown sugar
1/4 t ground cinnamon
2 T ground cumin
2 T coriander
1 T ground cardamom
3 T pimentón or smoked paprika
2 t dry mustard
1 T ancho chili powder
1 T chipotle chili powder
3 T freshly ground pepper
1/2 T white pepper
3 t cayenne pepper

Tandoori Rub

6 T sweet paprika
2 T ground coriander
2 T ground cumin
1 T ground cardamom
1 T turmeric
2 T sea salt
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 T sugar
1 T ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t crumbled saffron threads (optional)
1 t cayenne pepper

Grilled Leg of Lamb

February 1, 2009

I am not a glutton, I am an explorer of food.
~Erma Bombeck

An earlier post on grilling set the taste buds aflutter (see Green Grilling Debate) . This makes no mention of my deeply rooted adoration of lamb. So, below is a very fine, yet simple recipe for grilled butterflied leg of lamb, which calls for a local, organic lamb. Usually, I would advocate cooking meat with a bone in, as that imparts flavor to the meat—but, when grilling a butterflied cut it seems a fine fit.

The lamb becomes succulent with a crusty, flavorful char on the outside, pink and tender on the inside. Before we embark on the cooking process, a few words on organic lamb…

Organic livestock farming promotes biological diversity and replenishment of soil without the use of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic certification means that the methods and practices of raising livestock have been reviewed by an independent third party. Organic meat production means that only meats labeled certified organic are 100% free of genetically modified organisms, pesticides, medications, and growth hormones.

You know what the word “local” means. Now, on to the queen for a day—

GRILLED LEG OF LAMB

1 boned and butterflied leg of local, organic lamb (5-6 lbs. boned weight)

2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 T rice vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
2 T local honey
½ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup olive oil
3-4 fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 inch slice of ginger root, peeled and finely minced
1 inch slice of ginger root, unpeeled and thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

Rosemary sprigs

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rub the halved garlic cloves over the surface of the lamb; salt and pepper liberally on both sides. Then, combine marinade ingredients & pour over lamb. Marinate at least 2 hours at room temperature and preferably overnight in the refrigerator, turning the meat at least once and hopefully more. If it is marinated overnight in the refrigerator, be sure to bring the meat to room temperature before grilling.

Drain before cooking and reserve marinade.

Prepare coals or gas grill for barbecuing. If using charcoal grill, open vents on bottom, then light charcoal. Charcoal fire is medium-hot when you can hold your hand 5″ above rack for 3 seconds or so. If using gas grill, preheat burners on high with hood closed 10 minutes, then turn down to moderately high.

Just before grilling, strew several rosemary sprigs around the outside perimeter of the coals to impart subtle flavor to the meat.

Place the grill 4-5 inches above coals & grill lamb, fat side down, covered, 15 minutes. Turn meat & grill, covered, about 10 minutes more on the other side or until it reaches medium rare.

Before carving, let the lamb rest on a welled cutting board for at least 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to migrate throught. If you carve too soon, the juices will simply exit the lamb leaving a much drier piece of meat. Slice the lamb across the grain and on the bias and fan them onto plates. Heat remaining marinade, discard the sliced ginger root, and drizzle over the lamb slices.

Serve with a Côtes du Rhone or a California old vine zinfandel