September 20, 2009

Kids in the Kitchen: Grilled Octopus and Shrimp in Escabeche, and Fried Plantains

brandan octopusAs it is often said, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. As was the case tonight.

This week was Brandan’s turn in the kitchen. Brandan is a foodie-in-training, with an intense desire to explore unique and adventurous foods – the more “bizarre” in his mind, the more he wants to try it! He chose Mexico as his country; one of my favorite cuisines. We started to discuss what he wished to make. Immediately, he exclaims “Octopus!” I knew octopus was consumed in Mexico; I just had to dig and find a suitable recipe. Luckily for me, Rick Bayless and his wonderful book Mexico – One Plate at a Time provided great inspiration. A recipe on page 249 – Seared Fish Fillets in Escabeche – had a variation that called for octopus. Brandan wished to grill the octopus, however. Not to worry, I knew that Peter at Kalofagas.ca posted a Greek grilled octopus recipe a while back that intrigued me. So Brandan and I set off to grill octopus and shrimp, and serve it with escabeche, Mexican white rice (also courtesy of Rick Bayless) and fried plantains.

grilled octopus, waiting to be served

grilled octopus, waiting to be served

Unfortunately, as much as both Brandan and I were excited about the idea of octopus, (Brandan had never tried octopus; I only ate it a time or two at a sushi restaurant) the end result was far from exciting. In fact, the dish was a big FAIL. I am unsure if it was as a result of my lack of knowledge on how to prepare octopus (I braised the octopus in its own liquid for about 50 minutes, until fork-tender, and then grilled it), or if our family just plain doesn’t like grilled octopus, but we ended up tossing most of the dish. I don’t blame Peter or Rick Bayless, of course, it’s likely my improvisation just came back to bite me on this one! (And on a side note, the escabeche portion of the dish was tasty.)

Brandan chopping up carrots for escabeche

Brandan chopping up carrots for escabeche

One part of the dish did shine, however. The fried plantains, which I’ve prepared numerous times, were delicious. Of course, fried plantains hardly need a recipe. Basically, you place about 2 tablespoons of oil in a hot pan (I used my trusty cast iron skillet), and once you bring it to medium-high heat, add 2-3 peeled and sliced plantains in a single layer. Allow to cook without moving for a minute or two, or until a golden crust forms on the plantain. Flip over and fry the other side of the plantain slices for 2 minutes longer. Sprinkle with a touch of salt, or if you really want to get fancy, sprinkle with some cotija cheese. That’s it. They are wonderfully crisp on the exterior, with a creamy-sweet interior. Quite addictive.

fried plantains

All in all, Brandan and I did learn something through our experience with the failed octopus dish. It never hurts to try something new, and it’s perfectly okay if it doesn’t turn out. We’re not discouraged, we’ll just try something new again next time!

30 Responses to “Kids in the Kitchen: Grilled Octopus and Shrimp in Escabeche, and Fried Plantains”

  1. On the bright side, cooking failures usually make better stories! I’m impressed that you even tried octopus.

  2. It’s so great that he wanted to try octopus! I do not think I have ever had it. I’m sorry to hear the dish did not work out but it sure did look great:)

  3. I love to eat octopus, but haven’t tried cooking with it yet. I’m slow, but surely working my way up. haha… Nice.

  4. I looooove octopus, looked good to me on the picture though. It needs to be well cooked otherwise is hard to chew and well seasoned. Have you tried Tagine of octopus w/ mango, onions and paprika? one of my fav. seaood dish. Now I want your octopus…
    You have to try making it again, don’t stay with this impression, it’s worth it (for me it is). Next time will be the one.

  5. I have never tried octopus – on my food phobia list. I don’t know how someone who loves food so much can have so many aversions…I’ve gotten better about this over time and maybe someday I will have much more courage. :)

    The life skills that you’re teaching your kids are incredible and will enhance their life for years to come.

    • Amy – Just keep on trying new ways to prepare those foods you’re not fond of, maybe you’ll find a way to enjoy them! Of course, there are so many foods available, that many times you can still eat quite a varied diet even without them.

      Citronetvanille – I will definitely have to try your recommendation! Sounds flavorful, and I’d imagine as a tagine it might have a much better chance of being tender and having more flavor. (this was bland and sort of tough) Thanks!

      Bread+Butter – if you do try it, let me know how it goes! It surprised me that it was rather inexpensive, so it’s not a huge loss if you screw it up. (a bonus!)

      Nutmegnanny – Thanks – yes, I think he and I are kindred spirits when it comes to adventurous food.

      Katie – They certainly do make for good stories!

  6. Kudos to Brandan for being so adventurous in his experimentations… and even more kudos to you for supporting him!

    I love octopus… my tastebuds hearken back time and time again to the wine braised octopus I had at one of Tom Douglas’ restaurants in Seattle. This recipe is lovely — if not a complete success. Definitely something to revisit when time allows!

    And fried plantains… well, they’re on my list of awesome foods. I can just envision how delicious they were alongside!

  7. i think he did a good job!
    i’ve always cooked squid (frozen one), should start trying octopus!
    the picture looks really tasty!

    • Lululu – He did do a good job. Thanks! We’ll just have to try octopus again soon, maybe braise in red wine next time!

      Lo – Wine braised octopus does sound good. Definitely will consider that! And we did eat our fair share of plantains, since the octopus was less than ideal. Plantains are one of my favorites!

  8. What a fun meal! I love fried plantains!

  9. My years in Hawaii taught me not to be afraid of tentacles on my plate. Like you, I’ve only eaten it as part of a sashimi plate, but the grilling sounds really fun! I’m not sure I could get my DD to try it, however. Anyway, if you find another sure-fire way to make it work, I’d love to hear about it. Good job keeping the kiddos in the middle of the cuisine prep. Awesome!

    PS – where do you BUY an octopus?

  10. At least you tried, I have never done octopus, but i think its easy to overcook. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  11. Wow, I love the sense of adventure that Brandan displays especially at his age. And your patience and willingness to research and “do whatever” is very impressive as well. What a great mom you are!!! Your best lesson here, in my humble opinion, is to actually admit – in writing – that something wasn’t just yummy wonderful. Sometimes things just don’t turn out and I find it amazing at the people who are unwilling to admit their shortcomings. Congratulations! This is the only way to learn. I was watching Rick Bayless the other day and he said it took him 20 years to get a recipe “right”. And look where he is now!! Keep up the greatness – with your kids and cooking! And by the way, your food photography is as good as any I have seen and better than most!!

    • Suzanne – Thank you so much. Hopefully it won’t take me 20 years to get octopus right, but that tenacity is exactly what causes me to admire Rick Bayless so.

      Southern Grace – I think it was easy to overcook, may have been my issue!

      Cindy – I did a teensy bit of research, you can buy baby octopus at the big Asian market in Plano. For this particular octopus, I found it at Fiesta. Rather inexpensive, too! I also discovered they carry squid, baby octopus, and even conch meat. Interesting, eh?

      SimplyLife – Thank you!

  12. Hi…I grew up on Plantains. In Nigeria, we cook them in various ways, each with its own name.

    When you fry them like you did , we call it ‘Dodo’…like the bird
    When its thin and crispy, we call it chips or Kpekere (but there’s no ‘kp’ sound in English so….)
    When its roasted/grilled, we call it ‘Bole’ pronounsed bol -e
    When its boiled, we call it….boiled plantain!

    We don’t shallow fry our plantain- we deep fry it. Not out of any knowledge of any sort I guess though apparently, when shallow-frying, the plantains absorb more oil than when deep fried! Cheers

  13. You are certainly very brave to cook octopus at home – I’ve never tried doing that yet! I’m sure you’ll have better success next time for sure. The fried plantains look yummy!

  14. Wow – I don’t know if I’m adventurous enough to try octopus, Good for your son! How wonderful that he wants to be in the kitchen with you!

  15. Not to worry, the adventure of food and cooking will involve set backs at times, but the experience is always a good thing!

  16. The octopus looked good, to bad it didn’t taste that way. We’ve all had dinners become instant compost, that’s why they invented take out menus. I’m sure you’ll figure out how to make one tasy octopus.

  17. Hello, Alta :)

    how does it taste like, the octupus? I will probably never have the courage to try it..

    you’re so lucky with your son, Brandan

  18. You’re lucky that you’re kids are so curious about food, mine aren’t… and it gives a hard time!

  19. You get superstar points for tackling a new ingredient — octopus is a tricky lil’ sucker. ;) Kudos for being bold and fearless in the kitchen. Plus fried plantains for dinner doesn’t sound so bad! Great post and the photos still turned out beautiful even if you weren’t over the moon about the dish itself.

  20. I love that your son wanted to cook octopus – what an adventurous guy! I wish I could offer you some advice, but I have never had the opportunity to cook octopus.

  21. Fried plantains never fail! Regarding the octopus, it gets tough really easily. Has anyone ever thought of slow-cooking it, I wonder? Or is tough for different reasons than cheap cuts of more common meats?

  22. Octopus are kinda scary. :) You are both brave for even touching it. Maybe you can try it with squid?

    • Duo Dishes – I might try squid. Yes, octopus looks kind of scary! Of course, to me there could be scarier things…Andrew Zimmern has eaten most of those…

      Chickenless Chick – I doubt it gets tough for exactly the same reasons as cheap cuts of meat. Maybe it’s partially because it’s really lean, but it seems that a lot of seafood can get rubbery and tough if overcooked. May have something to do with the protein makeup. Not sure.

      Cookin’ Canuck – He is our adventurous one! He makes up for the other two kids, that’s for sure!

      Wasabi Prime, Elle – Thank you!

      Miriam – My other two are not so adventurous, so he makes up for them!

      Olive – Well, the broth that it simmered in tasted great – earthy and of the sea, at the same time. The meat, however, didn’t have that same flavor. It was bland. Perhaps I should have steeped it longer.

      John – Thank you. Yes, I’ve made a thing or two that immediately went from frying pan to the garbage. We’ll figure it out eventually though!

      Cajun Chef Ryan, Barbara, Natasha – thank you!

      Kitchen Butterfly – I might just have to try deep-frying. I love plantains, so I’d be happy with any of these versions!

  23. I give you so much credit for going on a adventure in the kitchen and trying out octopus. Not only the dish looks incredibly tasty but it is so elegant and pretty to look at!

  24. I have loved octopus the 2 or 3 times I have had it, but I would have no idea how to prepare it if I had the chance. Much the same way I feel about a lot of seafood particularly mollusks. Sorry it didn’t turn out, but it looks like you had fun trying something new and that definitely counts for something.

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