Every time I have eaten octopus in a restaurant it has either been grilled or else served cold and sliced as a sashimi selection. Recently, in Ottawa, however, I saw an appetizer selection on the menu at the Empire Grill which was called ‘Steamed Octopus alla Parmentara’. I am not sure what the Parmentara signifies (and a google search reveals nothing of note), but I couldn’t resist giving it a try. In the event, the dish, which you see pictured above, proved not only to be quite a bit different from what I was expecting but also something of a disappointment…
The menu description ran as follows:
STEAMED OCTOPUS ALLA PARMENTARA … Octopus with green onions, dried cranberries and pistachios with garlic lemon dressing served over potato puree.
What was surprising about the dish was that it was served cold (or very nearly so), which was not something I anticipated from the menu description. The octopus part was completely cold while the pureed potatoes were somewhere between cool and lukewarm. I am not sure if this was intended, or whether they were supposed to be warm and cooled off, or cold and weren’t chilled sufficiently, but the result was something I really wasn’t sure I liked.
As for the rest of the dish, the cranberry and pistachios worked nicely towards the final effect but the octopus itself was very poorly done. What I like best about properly prepared octopus is the lovely, chewy texture of the flesh but, here, the effect was dry and had rather the cardboard-like texture of canned octopus. Since they specify that their octopus is ‘steamed’ I would hate to think they actually did use a canned product but, given the quality, I have to wonder.
Anyway, as I mentioned, this dish was a disappointment, both in terms of visual appeal and taste experience and, were I to render this dish myself, the potato puree would definitely have to go. Would any of my readers have any suggestions as to a suitable replacement?
Aside from the odd can for making tuna salad sandwiches, I have only ever eaten tuna raw. With this particular dish, recently sampled at the Empire Grill in Ottawa [now defunct] , I only just managed, barely, to break with that tradition…
In my post featuring Beef Tataki, which explains in a bit more detail the specific Japanese grilling technique in question, I mentioned that the process is sometimes applied to fish, and, as you can see, the tuna in this particular case is very nearly raw all except for a tiny margin around the edges. It is this brief grilling that allows the tuna to develop a range of flavors beyond that of the purely raw article and the Empire Grill managed, I must say to do a very nice job.
The slices of tuna, crusted with white and dark sesame seeds were served over a bed of seaweed dressed with soy and ginger. This salad, which certainly added to the visual appeal of the presentation, was very pleasant in both texture and taste, although I rather suspect that a pre-packaged seaweed was used rather than prepared from scratch. The dark sauce you can see was not mentioned in the menu description but it had a very good umami taste that makes me think that soybean paste may have been present. In any event, it worked really well with both the fish and the seaweed.
My only real criticism about this dish was that the tuna slices were ever so slightly dry. The waiter confirmed for me that the sesame seeds are pressed into the meat after grilling and I rather think that the restaurant probably prepares a large section of fish then keeps it pressed by wrapping tightly before slicing individual portions as ordered. This would make sense for restaurants to do but it does, if I am right in my guess, result in a slight diminution of the nice, soft texture of a freshly prepared piece. Still, this was really only a minor flaw and I really enjoyed the dish as a whole. I look forward very much to trying at home sometime as soon as fresh tuna appears in our local store…
When I am at the type of western restaurant that serves deep-fried calamari rings as an appetizer I usually select them because, in such places (with the exception of good Italian restaurants), the rest of the appetizer menu is usually not that interesting. I like deep-fried Calamari most of the time but I also prefer to eat heavily battered deep-fried foods only sparingly, if only as a matter of personal taste rather than for health reasons.
Since I had some frozen Calamari Rings unused after a previous meal, I decided to use them as a deep-fried appetizer, but, rather than using the typical sort of thick batter, I thought I would use a much lighter Asian frying technique along with a seasoning that is especially popular with shrimp… Continue reading “Salt and Pepper Squid”→