The shape of an octopus is so other-worldly in its beauty. Not at all how it first appears, so gangly and slimy to the touch, yet eerily captivating. This post was inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s movie, The Shape of Water. Authentic meaning exists beyond first appearances. To suspend one’s accepted beliefs and discover a startling strangeness is a fairytale of the coolest kind. Are you willing to let go your preconceived ideas about moviemaking and the visual, theoretical and religious meanings we assign to sentient beings? Enough said. No spoilers. But back to that question of this octopus as beauty or food. I’m conflicted.
Unable to perceive the shape of You,
I find You all around me.
Your presence fills my eyes with Your love,
It humbles my heart,
For You are everywhere.
– The Shape of Water, unknown Sufi poet
A similar underwater creature is at the center of Jules Verne’s 1954 movie 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Captain Nemo wants to destroy this foreign creature he fears and doesn’t understand.
In truth, cephalopods like the squid and octopus are thought to be the most intelligent invertebrates, having the highest brain-to-body mass ratio.
(Gulp. I’m prepping this perceptive, living creature for dinner.)
I mean, just look at those startlingly stunning and magical tentacles. Food or beauty? I am torn.
Octopus should always be tenderized first by boiling for 45 minutes until a knife easily pierces the skin. Place your octopus into a big pot. Fill with cold water and add 1 tablespoon each of whole white peppercorns and salt. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a rolling simmer, uncovered, for 45-55 minutes, until octopus can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Refrigerate for one hour or overnight before grilling. This tenderizing process preps the meat to be grilled on medium high heat until both sides are charred. Before serving, brush the meat with a smoky Ancho Chile sauce (see below.) If you don’t want to handle a whole octopus, ask your fishmonger to remove the head and separate the tentacles for you in advance.
* SMOKY ANCHO CHILE SAUCE *
Ancho Chile Sauce
- 2 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 1 small dried chipotle chile, stemmed and seeded
- ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3-8 tablespoons honey to your desired level of sweet-heat
- 1 garlic clove (optional)
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup grapeseed oil
- In a medium saucepan, toast the chiles over moderate heat, turning, until fragrant and pliable, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vinegar, honey and garlic clove (optional.) Bring just to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let stand until the chiles are softened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. With the machine on, gradually add the oils until desired consistency. Season the ancho chile sauce with salt.