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Eat This Tonight: Octopus — braised, grilled, sliced, and diced

Dig Deep

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Last week, Brys Stephens reviewed Osteria la Bottiglia and wrote about their tantalizing dish of baby octopuses (or octopi or octopodes, depending on your preference). The pint-sized critters came swimming in a spicy bowl of smoked paprika tomato sauce and made us start thinking about octopus, an interesting ingredient that — when done well — can prove unforgettable (we're looking at you Bacco). So we put our intern Jessica Maggart on the case this week. She called around town to find out which chefs are brave enough to work with the sea creature.

The first stop on our octopus tour is Bacco in Mt. Pleasant, where you can get a Mediterranean octopus, braised in olive oil until it's tender then grilled, which adds a smokiness to it. It is served atop a julienned red potato, arugula, and celery salad and drizzled with a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette. "Personally, I think it's the best octopus in South Carolina," says chef and owner Michael Scognamiglio. "I love how it's unlike any octopus that you have because it's super tender, not chewy at all."

For another taste of Mediterranean octopus, you can head over to McCrady's for their charred octopus dish. "This is basically confit," says sous chef Jeremiah Langhorne. The octopus is cooked slowly, and after it becomes extremely tender, the octopus is then grilled and served with a potato puree, squid ink, fennel cilantro, and an egg yolk custard. "It's a good dish for people who haven't tried octopus before," says Langhorne."

If you want to go the more traditional route, you can make your way to O-Ku or Tasty Thai and Sushi for Japanese preparations of octopus. O-Ku has two different ways of serving octopus. The first is their Japanese octopus, which they pound with daikon radish to tenderize it, boil it in water, wash it with sea salt, and serve it with sashimi. "We slice each to order paper thin, in a slant cut, and make it wavy. It gives you a nice texture so you can enjoy all of it," says Executive Chef Sean Park. O-Ku's other dish is the small baby cctopus, which is about half the length of a person's index finger. It is also served cooked and is seasoned with soy, ginger, vinegar, Japanese rice wine, Saki, salt, pepper, and sesame oil.

Tasty Thai and Sushi also has two different preparations of octopus. First on their menu is the octopus salad where the octopus is served on a bed of daikon radish, sprinkled with vinaigrette, and garnished with a seaweed salad and cucumber. The second dish, which is made in the "traditional sushi style," according to head sushi chef David Deguia, is their nigiri. In this option, the octopus is sliced very thinly and then tied up with seaweed and served on a bed of rice.

Over at Coast, they have a classic ceviche of baby octopus prepared with orange, lime, chili, cilantro, and avocado.

Don't let your fear of the unknown keep you from digging into one of these babies. Octopus may be ugly, but they sure are good.

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