Octopus, eggplant, beans, soy
This dish really made me miss my dog. His favorite fuzzy chew toy was a demented-looking green and black octopus. At least once a week, he'd walk into the living room and spot the ratty thing out of the corner of his eye, and, with his teeth, yank it out of the basket by one of its legs and fling it across the room, barking at it like it was some predatory killer he was protecting me from. Crazy little wiener dog....
As I was shopping for the ingredients for this dish, I was trying to remember the last time I ate octopus. There have been a few times I've tried to order it recently in restaurants, but it's almost always had some sort of marinade-related gluten conflict, so I had to choose something else. Regardless, it's obvious that when I've had it before, it didn't make an impression -- good or bad -- so I feel like I'm starting with a clean slate here. Feels weird to know I've eaten something before, but have no taste memory one way one another. Huh....
The first thing I did was prepare the marinade for the octopi. Wait. It's octopi, right? Octopuses? That sounds slightly dirty. Hang on, let me consult Merriam-Webster.... okay both are correct. But both are also weird, aren't they? Like whoever came up with the word "octopus" back in 1431, or whenever it was, thought it would be hilARious because the plural of the word would make you sound like a dork when you said it.
But I digress...
Oh, hello there, little guy.
I bought eight octopi, knowing I needed 250g of legs for the final dish, removed the bodies and kept the legs intact of each one, rinsed them, dried them, and put them in a bowl while I made the marinade.
The marinade is easy: soy sauce, mirin, sugar, rice vinegar, dry red wine, garlic, and fresh ginger -- all brought to a simmer, then allowed to cool to room temperature.
When it had cooled, I put the marinade in a ziploc bag and added the octopus legs, sealed it, and refrigerated it for 24 hours -- bringing the legs out just in time for grilling just before plating (which you'll see at the end of this post, obviously).
The only other thing I wanted to do a day ahead of serving was make the frozen eggplant puree. I peeled and cubed four eggplants to be able to yield 1,500g of eggplant cubes, which I sauteed in peanut oil (which smelled amaaaaaaazzzzzing).
Once the eggplant had softened and browned, I made the ginger juice by peeling and juicing fresh ginger in my JuiceDude2000:
Next, I removed the seeds and ribs from these two lovely chilis before mincing them:
I also made some fresh ground cardamom by removing the cardamom seeds from their pods, grinding them in a spice/coffee bean grinder, and sifting it through a fine-mesh strainer.
In a medium-sized bowl, I combined the ginger juice, chilies, cardamom powder, soy sauce, red wine, garlic, sugar, and water.
I added the sauteed eggplant and stirred gently until everything came together and the eggplant was coated.
I put the eggplant mixture into a ziploc bag, squeezed out as much air as I could (FoodSavers don't work for sous vide cooking, because they suck moisture out, as well as air), and cooked the eggplant en sous vide at 195 degrees Fahrenheit (91 degrees C) for an hour.
When it was done, and the eggplant was so incredibly tender, I put it into a blender and pureed until it was smooth:
I added salt, stirred, and strained it through a fine-mesh strainer onto a sheet pan to cool to room temperature:
When it had cooled, I put it into the refrigerator for a few hours to cool further, then put it in my ice cream maker for 30 minutes. The book provides instructions for using a Pacojet, which I don't have, because that $4,000 is better spent on other things like, I dunno, my MORTGAGE.
So, I kicked it welfare-style and used my 15-year old Krups ice cream maker to freeze the eggplant mixture.
I spread the now-sort-of-a-little-more-frozen eggplant mixture into a 13x9" baking dish and put it in the freezer to harden overnight.
The next day, the day I wanted to serve this, the rest of the prep was pretty damn easy. I soaked the dried chickpeas overnight, and in the morning cooked them for about 40 minutes. I dried them, and fried 'em up in some canola oil (400 degrees F), then sprinkled them with kosher salt.
I also marinated the green beans (sadly, the farmers market and local grocery stores were out of wax beans when I went to buy them for this dish -- which sucked because I LOVE wax beans) in rice vinegar, grapeseed oil, salt, and black pepper.
Finally, before grilling the octopus legs (the last step before plating), I made the soy bubbles. In a medium saucepan, I brought my gluten-free soy sauce, water, sugar, and soy lecithin to a simmer, whisking to dissolve the sugar and lecithin.
I strained it into another container, then used my immersion blender to foam it, which you'll see spooned onto the plate in the final photo.
Last but not least, I removed the octopus legs from the marinade, drained them in a colander, and grilled them over high heat for about 30 seconds on each side.
I wish I'd shot video footage of this, because when you lay the wet, limp octopus legs onto the grill, they slither and slide and squirm and roll and pop and twitch and bounce from the heat. It's only slightly freaky, and really kinda fascinating.
To plate, I placed a small rectangle of the frozen eggplant puree onto the plate, and topped it with some of the green beans. Then, I placed some of the chickpeas around, and placed a set of octopus legs on top of that, garnishing with sliced scallions, mung bean sprouts, and the soy foam.
So, how did it taste?
Let me break it into three categories -- taste, texture, and temperature. Overall, the taste was really, really good. Everything was seasoned really well, and I thought all the flavors complemented one another beautifully. Mung bean sprouts are sweeter than I thought they would be (I don't think I've ever had them before), and I really liked the taste of everything separately and together. The fried chickpeas were one of my favorite elements of this dish -- and something I'll make again as a little treat for when friends come over for a glass of wine. They were a little nutty, hearty, and just salty enough. The scallions also complemented the dish nicely -- usually, I think they taste too onion-y, or are a distraction, but not here.
Texture? Well, that's another story. I kind of suspected I might have some issues with the octopus legs, and there's just something about their texture that skeeves me. They weren't rubbery or overly chewy. I think it's the tentacles. I'm not sure. I swear I wasn't overthinking it when I was eating it -- it was just an awkwardness in the bite that I didn't expect.
Temperature? I would've rather had this, I think, with a warm eggplant puree. The frozen state of it was a little distracting in the overall flavor profile, and we all agreed that we loved the taste of the eggplant... it was just that it was frozen that made us stop and have to think about it for a few seconds as we were chewing instead of instantly knowing how delicious it was. And, since the eggplant puree was the most labor-intensive part of the dish, I wish I'd liked it more.
All told, it wasn't a bad dish. I just don't think I'll be adding it to the permanent rotation.
Up Next: Corn or Idiazabal
Resources: Baby octopus from Blacksalt; peanut oil, canola oil, rice vinegar, grapeseed oil, mirin, eggplant, ginger, Thai chilis, scallions, and garlic from HMart; Domino sugar; San-J wheat-free soy sauce; Turley 2007 Juvenile Zinfandel; David's kosher salt; mung bean sprouts, cardamom pods, and chickpeas from TPSS Co-op; soy lecithin from WillPowder; green beans from Glenville Hollow Farms at the Takoma Farmers Market;
Music to Cook By: Chuck Brown; Assorted. I've lived in the Washington, DC area for 23 years, and you can't live here for 23 minutes without knowing Chuck Brown. Chuck is the godfather of Go-Go music, and a legend in the music community -- even more so here in DC, as they recently named the street in front of The 930 Club "Chuck Brown Way." I've heard Chuck, Juju, and the guys (his horn section is fantastic) play at so many music festivals and tributes over the years, and I have a blast every time. In fact, the last time I saw James Brown in concert (not long before he died), Chuck opened for him, and it was such a great show -- I don't think my body stopped moving the entire night. So, from time to time, I love to put some Chuck Brown on the kitchen rotation (LOVE "Bustin' Loose" and "We Need Some Money") and put my backfield in motion.
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