Fearless Cooking, Fearless Eating

OctopusI wake up on Sunday morning excited at the prospect of going to Poissonerie Sherbrooke  to pick up the octopus that has been confirmed to be waiting for me. As I slam down two double espressos, I have a 6 year old and a 4 year old so yes I need that much coffee, I start to pore over my cookbooks, certain that I have a few octopus recipes somewhere around here. After a frantic search I come up with exactly zero. I’ve already told the fish monger that I am picking up some octopus and they have already told me that it will be tenderized and ready to be grilled when I pick it up. So, really only a jerk would just not go get it. I’ve eaten octopus before but have never cooked it and I know that if you mess it up it is pretty much akin to eating a lightly perfumed eraser. Please don’t ask me how I know what THAT tastes like. I recall having eaten it in a warm salad of grilled radicchio with a sweet style of dressing. Octopus that is, not eraser salad, that would be gross. So ok, let’s go for something like that.

Fast forward a few hours now and I’ve got the octopus in the fridge. I am making a balsamic fig reduction to use as my sweet dressing, and I am tossing some chopped radicchio and endives in a bowl with some extra virgin olive oil, some white wine vinegar, lemon juice and seasoning. I rub down the octopus, because I am caring like that, with some olive oil, seasoning, and a squeeze of lemon a few minutes before throwing it all on the grill. This is the part where i go off on a tangent….

Essentially I am cooking blind here. This used to be a nerve wracking experience for me. I would be so stressed out with the idea of cooking a new recipe, cooking for someone who is an accomplished cook, cooking for a large group of people, or just plain winging it like today because I am in the mood for a certain thing that I would often fail epically. It does help that today I am cooking for my friend who is part sasquatch (no joke he is 9’17” tall and can scratch his ankles without bending over) and he is pretty open to trying new foods. However, contrary to common folklore, the sasquatch is not always fond of seafood. As I can see by the look on his face when I mention what we are going to eat, this is going to be a tough sell. At this point a few years ago I would have simply gone in another direction for the meal in fear of failure but what’s the worst that could happen? I suppose I could inadvertently poison my friend but it’s not like you can kill sasquatch. Apologies if I make him sound like some kind of monster. The people who took him in as family and the lovely and talented fancy actress lady who is soon to be married to him( a touching love story not unlike King Kong really) have all done a fine job integrating him into our world.  But I digress. All that to say I have learned to accept failure in cooking thanks in large part to what an old friend once told me,”Even if you cook something that I don’t like it’s not like I am going to stop being your friend.” That was after an abysmal attempt at beef bourgignon several years ago. For whatever reason that has sunk into my brain and something clicked that day to help me get over my fear of failure in the kitchen.

This is what I am hoping to pass on here. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes, to eat new foods or just make something up if you think it might work. Will you fail sometimes? You bet! But you’ll get better every time you get back in the kitchen. That tension you get when you want a meal to work out but you are so nervous that you are scrambling and things just aren’t lining up properly will hold you back. Embrace the chance to make up your own recipe when your library fails you. One hit dish that you create will outweigh a few failed ones every time. So, now back to the octopus dish….

octopus salad

My grill is warmed up and ready to go. Time to toss the endives and radicchio into the pre-heated BBQ wok for a few minutes. Once I see them starting to wilt a bit that is when I toss on the octopus. the fragrance of it instantly changes from a more fishy smell to something meaty and I see hope in my friends eyes. I turn the octopus once after two minutes and grill on the other side for another two. Now, much like shrimp and scallops, you do not want to overcook this. A gentle poke with my tongs show me that it is pretty tender so I remove everything from the grill and get to plating. I garnish the dish with a little fresh chili pepper, the fig balsamic reduction, and a little squeeze of lemon and it’s now face stuffing time!

Good news people! Sasquatch like! I am happy with the dish too. If you haven’t grilled radicchio or endive before I highly recommend it. It adds a nice smoky, carmelized texture and taste to the dish. The fig balsamic reduction adds a nice sweetness which works really well with the hot chili too. My only issue with this dish is that some of the endive is overly bitter. I’ll have to meditate on how to resolve that should I give this dish another go.

It’s important when winging it in the kitchen while likely having a bit of wine or beer, to try to take a few quick notes. That way you can see what worked and what was a failure and build off of that. I have been guilty of making some fantastic dishes only to never be able to get them exactly the same ever again. Don’t let that happen to you.

Getting gutsy with food shouldn’t only apply to what you cook. I mean, unless you are allergic to something then go crazy and try whatever you can find even, or especially, if it is out of your comfort zone. Trust me, I don’t like everything I try but let me tell you that the day I took a chance and ordered bison tongue it opened a whole new world for me. I had hesitated for years to try things like brain, tongue, heart and all that crazy stuff. While I have yet to cook the tongue of any animal it’s now become one of the things I will almost always get if I see it on the menu. You think filet mignon is tender? It is like an old shoe compared to a nice plate of tongue. I can understand the argument that you don’t want to spend a fair amount of cash on a dish and then hate it. Look, if you are tight for cash I fully understand that point. but if you are out for a good time and can afford to take a chance on sea urchin or veal heart salad or whatever thing you find that you would likely never cook, or find too often, then as a food lover you owe it to yourself to try it sometimes. And don’t get me started on people who tell me something is disgusting and THEN tell me they have never tried the disgusting thing in question.

Just take a look at pig headthis dish to the right here. This is of course the stuffed pig’s head from none other than Pied de Cochon.
I will save the story of my love affair with that glorious place and its mad genius chef Martin Picard for another day. But just look at that dish. Sure, at first it may be intimidating to look at and think of eating. Give it a good look though. Is it not a work of art? The ultimate compliment is paid to the animal by not only using all of the meat that most places don’t use but displaying it proudly. A plate like this is something that everyone who is there that night to witness it will talk about for years. In the end isn’t that what great dining is about? Picture this conversation:

“What did you have for dinner that night you went out?”

“Oh, a roasted pig’s head stuffed with a lobster and cheesy mashed potatoes. You?”

“I had a skinless chicken breast.”

Which person would you rather talk to about their meal?

Stay phat.

Categories: Phood Philosophies

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