In Deep Waters: William Skidelsky Finds That We Underestimate the Culinary Attractions of the Octopus

Article excerpt

Octopuses, as the work of the American horror writer HP Lovecraft demonstrates (see the books section of last week's NS), have long been objects of fear. Known to early seafarers as "devil fish", these singular creatures have more recently been viewed as a sort of template for what an alien might look like. What with their tentacles, suction cups and unusual method of locomotion, it is not hard to see why. In real life, octopuses are solitary and highly intelligent animals which, among other abilities, can change colour in order to bamboozle predators.

Another commonly noted skill is their Houdini-like powers: one often hears of octopuses in restaurant kitchens carrying out nocturnal raids on the tanks of their crustacean neighbours, leaving a trail of shell as the only incriminating evidence.

If in our imaginations we tend to inflate the powers of the octopus, our tendency is to underestimate its attractions when it comes to eating its flesh. Many people's sole exposure to octopus will have been as an element of those rubbery, vinegary seafood concoctions that are sometimes served as antipasti at Italian restaurants. Subjecting so multifaceted a beast to such a dreary fate is, I think, tantamount to a betrayal. Culinarily speaking, octopuses are highly adaptable. They can be eaten hot or cold; they can be cooked for a long time or not at all; they can be served on their own or as part of a stew, a risotto or a pasta dish.

Octopuses are not often found in British supermarkets, but any decent fishmonger will stock them. …