Jeremy Leinen, CEC, Executive Chef of Dunwoody CC, shares a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to prepare a product for members he doesn’t personally enjoy eating.
I’d like to start by saying I’m not a fan of octopus whatsoever. I’ve tried it several times, including on my honeymoon in Ibiza. I’m resigned to believe that if I didn’t much care for octopus direct from the source in the Mediterranean, then I’m unlikely to be converted. That said, my Chef de Cuisine, Patrick Cherches, here at Dunwoody Country Club likes it and he’s been wanting to do something with it for a while. I’ve generally been hesitant. I don’t like the stuff. Would it sell enough to even be worth our trouble? I finally put my hangups aside and told Patrick to get a cooking procedure nailed down so we can put it on our next menu.
We returned from the COVID-19 lockdown with the task of opening a brand new kitchen. Having a new, well equipped kitchen has me much more willing to push the envelope and take some risks with a few menu items I would probably not have previously wanted to do. My only demand from Patrick was that it absolutely couldn’t be chewy. Every time I’ve had octopus—including in Spain—it was chewy. Members aren’t likely to react any better to chewy octopus than I would. In reality, if they got chewy octopus I’d never hear the end of it and they would probably go back to never ordering anything except fish tacos and burgers. Patrick assured me that the octopus would be nice and tender.
We decided we would serve the octopus grilled, with cranberry beans, crispy arugula and a blood orange vinaigrette. Having that established, the next step was to get a cooking procedure tested and written down. We made four separate test batches. Two were slightly different processes with two different products. One product was direct from Spain, the other from Australia, though both are Spanish octopus.
We cooked both products sous vide with a citrus and tarragon infused oil. The only difference between the two cooking procedures is that one method involved blanching the octopus first in salted water for about 90 seconds. For the sous vide step, both were cooked at 77°C for 5 hours. The sous vide step obviously ensures a tender end product. The blanching step helps to firm up the outer texture for a tighter exterior, which provides a nice nuance against the tenderness resulting from the sous vide cooking.
Our final testing resulted in four different product/method combinations to taste against each other. The blanched Spanish product was the clear cut winner. The Australian product had a better color after grilling but tasted a bit fishy and was more dense in texture. On the other hand, the Spanish product had a milder, fresher flavor and a more buttery texture. None of the four test batches were even the slightest bit chewy, so I feel good about that.
All in all, Patrick did all the work here. I’m just writing about it. For what it’s worth, I still don’t care for octopus but hopefully the members that do will order it and appreciate our efforts.