Monday, July 11, 2011

Gala Parfait: Octo-Q

One byproduct of co-hosting The Table Set that I'm really enjoying is that - as it is a podcast about entertaining - I am hosting gatherings more than ever! I recently co-hosted one of my favorite bashes to date, and forged a new friendship with an old familiar face.

Some things are just fated. Natalie and I went to art school together in Eugene, Oregon, but didn't really know each other. When I waited tables at Portland's uppity Pearl District hot spot Bluehour I recognized Natalie dining with the PICA and Wieden+Kennedy power lunchers. (I later found out Natalie too had worked at the restaurant before me). Five years later, I discover that we are both working on flip sides making a DEVO record in Los Angeles. We couldn't ignore this any longer. We joined forces. A barbecue on Natalie's Hollywood Hills deck was decided upon almost immediately. A blending of our friends; food lovers, art lovers, and music lovers... But what would we serve?

Ever since Natalie's recent trip to Chile she told me she's been obsessed with finding out how to make octopus tender and flavorful like she had tasted there. What she knew was that barbecuing is part of the secret. The proposal: An octopus BBQ?! Obviously I was down for the challenge, so we started to brainstorm the plan. Octopod culinary research went underway. A smoker was purchased and assembled. In the meantime I whipped up an invite to encapsulate the vibe. Natalie only has a turntable, so we would ask guests to bring a record. Other secret surprises were concocted.

Like any proper party, we needed to conceptualize a cocktail that would stand up to the smokey char of a crispy tentacle. Natalie brilliantly suggested the inclusion of smoked ice(!) Several tests on her part found that smoking water over cherry/mesquite wood and then freezing it produced subtly satisfactory results. In the spirit of the wood we ran with cherries and I made a brandied batch to muddle with orange in a Smokey Cherry Old Fashioned.

Macerating the cherries before tossing with hot water and submerging in Brandy.

The afternoon of the party, I was led up the steps to Natalie's deck by the scent of tantalizing smoke. Crows were eying the smoker, cawing at me as I approached the house. Inside I could hear a commotion. "Hello?..." I called stepping gently toward her open door, like a marked slasher victim. The grisly scene I walked into was not what I expected.
Whack. Whack. Whack. It takes 99 from a hammer to properly tenderize an octopus, they say. Natalie was just finishing up, and wiped her brow following the workout. The beast beneath her was HUGE, and the gravity of our endeavor finally sank in. "WOW," was all I could say.
The marinated creature went in a boiling pot next, where it began to reanimate and coil about in the simmering liquid. Then Natalie took a blade to it and carved it up for the grill.
Out back she gave me a peek of the little guys she had jerkifying in the smoker, spicy marinated buggers peppered with crackling chilies. While she breaked for costume change, I set up the bar.
Sure, our guest list had grown (and still was unbeknownst to us), but Natalie insisted on china and silver (bless her!) We set the table for... 15 or so, with a back-up stack of plates on the sideboard.
Our first guest arrived, which meant records, and cocktails! To have enough glasses for all, I picked up a couple crates of Kerr half pint wide-mouth mason jars, which make a pretty swell old fashioned tumbler. (Naturally I failed to photograph a finished cocktail, I was too busy cranking them out!)
The Smokey Cherry Old Fashioneds and a lovely contribution of cheese and salumi from one guest busied our happy hour revelers while we continued to ready for the main event.
We plucked the jerked octis from the smoker and joined the table with the tasty dishes our guests provided.
Michael's spicy shrimp were a hit. Luckily some cucumbers were handy to quell the heat.
The spread of vegetables was staggering... From kale salad to watermelon n' feta to spiced potatoes to fiery Sriracha slaw. I made two salads - One of chickpeas, chorizo, and arugula, and another of radicchio, Italian parsley, apricots and shaved fennel with a minty olive vinaigrette.
Natalie stood watch at the grill, turning the big boy's legs.
The flavor was robust and delicious. "Next time more char," Natalie said, tugging at the outer skin. Regardless, everyone waited with patient curiosity while I sawed the leggies into medallions.
What to drink with grilled octopi? Well I leave that to the experts. Luckily Whitney of Brunellos Have More Fun and DomaineLA was present with a few fitting bottles. My favorite was La Dilettante, Domaine Breton‘s 2009 Vouvray moustillant. A delicious crisp chenin blanc with light, moussey bubbles.
"Hey, that's from the store!" Whitney called at another guest's contribution of Causse Marines Marcillac, a... funky, earthy, inky red. Joy the Baker's fabulous peach & blackberry cobbler dessert (gobbled up before it was photographed) was geniously paired by Whitney with a Frantz Saumon Gamay Moelleux, a sexy, lingering yet tangy pomegrante, strawberry and pine masterpiece. (Read Whitney's account of the BBQ here).
But the cherry on top was our secret surprise guest, Luz Elena Mendoza, singer of Portland's beloved Y La Bamba. She graced the hushed patio with a short set of passionate arias ripe with duende.

Come dusk, we walked up the hill to a nearby viewing point and sat with circling ravens, watching as the sun sunk into the ocean. The way every perfect summer dinner party really should come to a close.

For those hoping for some more in depth octopus cooking tips, here are Natalie's four simple steps to making killer tentacles at home!

Just do it.

1 comment:

  1. woah, best dinner party ever! I love octopus/ squid and other seafoody bits!

    ReplyDelete