When I was a kid, my grandmother called me, my brother and his friends into the kitchen to peer into a boiling pot. In it was an octopus, turning purple and curling up its arms, the flopped head ballooning with heat. Behind us came a loud thump and we turned to see my brother's friend flat on his back, fainted on our fake brick linoleum. Grandma wrung her fingers as the boy's mother drove off with her son who now had a knot on the back of his head. "He's Italian," she said, frowning. "I thought they ate everything."
Cephalopods aren't for everyone, as it turns out. Even intrepid nibblers of calamari tentacles sometimes shy away from the larger suction cups, the chewy bite. Grilled baby octopus spares you both. They're tender and tiny, cooking up in minutes instead of hours of stewing. They aren't even pricey: You can pick up two pounds frozen for under $10 at WinCo, among other places. Buy them already cleaned and spare yourself the hassle/harrowing task of removing innards, beaks and little eyes. Oh, don't look like that. My son informs me that the venom of the 5-inch blue ringed octopus can kill you in a couple of minutes while it drifts away, flipping you off with its iridescent little tendrils. So species to species, we're even.
A quick blanching before marinating plumps the droopy, gray creatures into a nice shape and curls their legs like fiddleheads. A few hours in the fridge with an easy marinade and less than five minutes on the grill and they're done — just a little charred and not in the least bit tough. You either look at the miniature octopi and recoil at the idea of gobbling them whole, or you think of what fun it would be to make a teensy pirate ship for them to pull down to Davey Jones' Locker. For the record, I didn't spend that much time working on the boat.
Grilled Baby Octopus with Spicy Mayo
If you don't like cilantro, green onion will be fine. If you don't like garlic, I can't help you.
Ingredients and method:
2 pounds baby octopus, fully thawed
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
Soaked bamboo or metal skewers
1/3 cup mayonnaise
Sriracha chili sauce to taste
Place the octopi in a heat-proof bowl and boil water in a kettle. Pour the boiling water onto the octopi until covered and let them sit for 90 seconds. They will now look like creepy, little rubber bath toys. Drain the bowl and pat them dry.
In another bowl or a plastic zipper bag, mix the olive oil, sesame oil, lime juice, garlic, cilantro and fish sauce. Add the octopi and toss them in the mixture. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours. In a small bowl, stir Sriracha a little at a time into the mayonnaise, tasting as you go to achieve your desired level of spiciness. Add a squeeze of lime, if you like, and refrigerate.
Oil your grill and get it up to high heat. Skewer the octopi and grill them for two minutes on each side. Unsurprisingly, the tentacles want to stick, so take care turning. Once they are done, gently slide the octopi off the skewers and onto a dish and serve with the mayonnaise as a dip.