Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Is Octopus the New Squid?

On No Reservations this week, Tony traveled to Lisbon, where Cooper and I spent the last three days of our honeymoon (mostly napping, actually, though it's a very pretty city with good food).

Since I've been to Portugal and am roughly familiar with Portuguese history, as well as with the current European economic crisis and all the drama that goes with the Euro, the episode didn't hold too many surprises for me. One scene, though, got me thinking.

Tony and his handlers are out on a boat, fishing for octopus. In standard No Reservations fashion, they don't catch much (though they end up with one or two octopi of decent size). They take the octopus home, simmer it gently before throwing it on the grill, and eat one of my favorite meals: fresh grilled octopus.

I watched the episode with Dixon, whose little nose scrunched up at the prospect of eating something with suction cups. He'll learn. I wonder, everyone else catching on quickly, too?

Earlier in the episode, Bourdain and company had a quick conversation about changes fish-eating trends. The basic gist was this: today's trash fish is tomorrow's trendy dinner. This is true - and as mentioned on the show, squid's rise in popularity is a great example of the potential trajectory.

A generation or so ago, squid was trash fish - eaten, but more out of necessity than by choice. Today, it's on every menu from here to TGI Fridays. Actually, let me take that back. These days, restaurants with even the slightest edge shy away from including something as pedestrian as calamari on their menus.

So what's the new calamari? Could it be octopus? It's certainly showing up on a few more menus than it used to (I'd know - Cooper and I order it every time we see it) and it's even available at my local Italian butcher. But it hasn't yet reached Applebee's levels. Not even close.

But it could be the next calamari. In a year or five, octopus apps could be on every menu in the country. Yes, everybody would have to get over eating suction cups. But that's possible. We Americans, we're a resilient people.

So it could happen, but I hope it doesn't. For one thing, I love octopus and I don't want to see a) the prices go up, b) the quality decline or c) octopus to end up overfished - and if it gains popularity, at least one of those things is likely, if not all three. Just look at what happened to tuna.

Plus, octopus is notoriously difficult to cook. That's actually something I like about it - you can tell so much about the skill and patience of a chef by how he treats his octopus. A few weeks ago, when we reviewed 1542 Gastropub, Cooper and I knew that Chef Cyrus Keefer was the real deal after one bite of his octopus pizza (try it - the octopus is crazy tender). Good chefs do right by octopus, but can a line cook? Someone who's churning out app after Jack Daniels-sauced app?

I'm not taking anything away from those cooks - they do a job I couldn't do. But their job is go-go-go and octopus is slowwwwww.

So, back to my original question: Is octopus the new squid? It could be. But let's hope not.

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