Hands up all those people who think eating squid or octopus is not a lot of different from having a chew on the tyre of your car, or bicycle if you prefer pedal power.
Put your hands down if you have never actually eaten squid or octopus.
Also put your hands down if you’ve only ever eaten it as part of a tourist excursion and in a restaurant that churns out mediocre food on a daily basis to more people than Jesus had to sort out loaves and fishes for at Galilee.
Drop those hands if you’ve only ever eaten either, or both, octopus or squid once. One attempt simply doesn’t count. In fact if that one time was when you were a child then don’t just drop the hand, stick it firmly in your pocket and go and stand in the corner of the room. If you’re still avoiding food you didn’t like as a child, I’ve got news – your tastes change as you evolve into a fully rounded human being. Go on try those things you didn’t like when you were 10, you might be surprised by what you discover.
If you claim you don’t like seafood definitely get those hands out of the air, you’re totally biased.
Finally, if the reason you churn out the mantra that octopus/squid is rubbery because you really don’t like the idea of sticking tentacles in your mouth, then say so. That I can relate to.
If you’ve tried cephalopods on lots of occasions and in different countries and still claim that they’re rubbery then, fair enough, you can leave those arms swaying in the breeze.
How many does that leave?
Somewhere in the distant past I must have been drip fed the ‘rubbery squid’ phrase to roll out when faced with Mediterranean menus. I was guilty of repeating it before I’d ever eaten calamari. But I like trying things I’ve never eaten before and at a harbour side restaurant on an idyllic Greek Island, I dived in.
(Note: Before accusations of cliché are bandied about, it’s actually illegal to write Greek Island without using the term ‘idyllic’ at the start.)
The squid’s battered hoops and twisted bothria were crispy on the outside, the tentacles particularly so, and tasted of dreamy sunsets, turquoise seas, bobbing boats and Zorba the Greek. It was also wonderfully tender.
I told the waiter this and it was all he could do to stop himself rolling his eyes. He’d heard the rubbery squid comment far too many times.
“If it’s rubbery, it’s badly cooked,” he told me, staying just on the right side of exasperation.
The secret of tender calamari is simple: fresh squid, fresh oil and fry quickly.
But even then it’s not that straightforward. I was having a conversation with a friend recently who insisted that squid was rubbery. In all the years I’ve known her I’ve seen her pop many things into her mouth but squid hasn’t been one of them.
One of the things that gives the rubbery squid brigade away is that they don’t know squid can be like the three bears. There’s baby squid (too tiny to be rubbery and great for idly popping in your mouth over a cerveza or two). Then there’s mommy squid – lovely, finger-length squid that can have a slight taste of liver. And there’s daddy squid who ends up as calamari and similar. If you subscribe to Jules Verne there might even be granddaddy squid but we’ll leave him well alone.
The there’s our beaky, eight legged friend the octopus, who is so not like squid; another give-away when cephalopod bad-mouthers lump then both together when throwing out excuses why they aren’t going to be trying a bit of your pulpo salad.
Google ‘what octopus tastes like’ and the answers will come up that it’s tough, chewy and tastes like squid.
To that I say bollocks. Octopus tastes nothing like squid.
It’s a bit more of a tricky fellow to get right. But when done so, the result is more like a white meat than seafood. I’ve had octopus that has reminded me of chicken but more often than not, I think of it as the pork of the sea. Cooked properly it is a revelation.
If you’re still not convinced than seek out a good Chinese restaurant and just try the salt and pepper squid. Next time you’re in Greece find a reputable seafood restaurant and give the calamari a go (it has to come with tentacles otherwise I’m dubious about its authenticity). If in Spain, search for a tasca that prides itself on its pulpo – ideally one where they serve the octopus with mash and a sprinkling of paprika (yowza).
And then, when you’ve done that, come back and tell me you still think octopus and squid are rubbery.
At that point we’ll talk about cuttlefish.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+