Monday 16 March
A couple of weeks ago, Luken's had a sign up: whole frozen octopus for $4 a pound. We handed over $16 and got a four-pounder the size and shape of a bowling ball, rolling around the freezer. Visions of four styles of octopus filled our heads; our friends Lauren and Zac would be up such an exotic treat, so we invited them over for the first day of Spring Break.
Barbara thought of a variation on Bundles of Sole: a sheaf of asparagus clasped by one curled tentacle, to be called "Captain Nemo's Delight."
Holt wanted to base a dish on Hokusai's famous print for "Young Pines," of a pearl-diver enjoying some octopod attention, but like most modern hentai versions, it would have had to be censored.
One dish we were sure of: the marvelous pulpo a la gallega we had had at Fino in London.
On consultation with various experts, the night before the meal we hoisted the now-defrosted beast (which turned out to have parallel rows of suckers, just as Fino advised) into a pot of water with a bay leaf, two cloves of garlic, thyme, and peppercorns, and pre-simmered it until just tender.
The octopod, however, shrank to an amazing extent - from over four pounds, it went down to a dainty 14 oz. So much for the website's prediction that it would feed four - they must have meant four teeny plates of tapas.
So with our dreams of an all-octopus feast gone to pieces, we went back into the freezer to flesh (I mean fish) out the meal.
On the night of the meal, we simmered the chilled octapodette gently in good olive oil at ca. 176º F for five minutes, sprinkled with salt and sweet smoked pimenton de la Vera, and set aside to cool.
Then about a pound and a half of cod pieces got slipped into a sauce much like this one.
Once Lauren and Zac arrived, we started, astoundingly, with a bottle of sparkling blanc des noirs and some cashew and olive snacks out on the back patio - it was actually as warm as 70º, perfect to declare good fortune and the advent of spring.
When it got a little darker, we proceeded indoors for our tapas, and the pulpo was as delicious and tender as we'd hoped.
Then the next course of fish stew was spooned ad lib from a tureen at the table. Holt's pane pugliese and a plate of roast asparagus rounded out the meal.
And for dessert, Holt had piped out puffs of pâte à choux to fill with Graeter's newest flavor, bourbon-pecan-chip, a nod to our neighbors in Kentucky. And what could you serve it with but their product, W.L. Weller's best? Promotes digestion, which is one excuse, and good conversation, which is why we gather with friends in the first place.