Friday, November 6, 2009
Sea creatures, cooking and sex
It's a beautiful Friday here. I'm glad that it's almost the weekend. This afternoon I'm going to give a talk on one of my favorite critters, the horseshoe crab. Sharing information on marine organisms is something that I look forward to. If I can impart some information that will help people to consider the estuaries and oceans in a different way, as a home to some interesting and important creatures, then I consider that a success.
The horseshoe crab, a humble prehistoric looking critter, has been around since the Ordovician period, which was about 500 million years ago. That's a long time. What's really intriguing is that the blood of horseshoe crab is used by the biomedical industry to detect bacterial endotoxins in catheter tubes and injectable drugs. So this ancient creature provides a very real and valuable service for many people.
I had to laugh about Mary's cooking experience with octopus. I've read of many methods to tenderize the rubbery cephalopod. If you ask five different people what these measures are you are likely to get five different answers, all arcane - which goes a long way toward explaining why no one cooks octopus at home. A Greek cook may tell you to beat it against some rocks. A Spanish cook will dip it into boiling water three times, then cook it in a copper pot - only copper will do. An Italian might cook it with two corks. The Japanese rub it all over with salt, or knead it with grated daikon, then slice the meat at different angles, with varying strokes. I have used a wooden mallet to beat the rubber out of the octopus.
But I read up after Mary's adventure to find that the best method which is often the simplest (Occam's rasor) is to cook octopus and squid slowly. Cook for under five minutes or so for salad or sushi. For deep frying, it would be best to do long, slow cooking to get a tender texture. I read in one book that 30 minutes per kilo (two pounds) is a gauge. But much will depend on repeatedly testing the skin with a sharp knife. When the knife blade splits the skin with little resistance, then the octopus is done.
And if all that isn't gross enough, when eating calimari look for the long tentacle that extends beyond the others. That is the hectocotylized arm of the male. He uses that to place a sperm packet in the female and thereby inseminates her.