You don’t have to beat your octopus against the white washed wall of your home in the Cyclades Islands, David, but you’ll look manly when you do it. Make sure you spray a little Evian Brumisateur on your brow to simulate sweat just before you begin. The sunlight will make you glisten.

You could also set your washing machine for the delicate cycle and give the 8 tentacled beast a whirl. Personally, I don’t have the space in my kitchen for a dedicated octopus machine and my guess is that your island retreat is humble, yet well appointed.

Instead, I opt for cooking these mystical creatures slowly, just beneath a simmer, in white wine until knife tender. I’ve thrown a cork in now and then as I was shown on the shores of the Adriatic, but only for an excuse to open another bottle of wine. Jennifer’s grandmother says it must be two corks, just pulled from the bottles.

However you decide to man handle your octopus, look good when you sit down to lunch. I would consider a lightweight cotton shirt with a tight weave so it snaps in the breeze.

The Octopus
Rinse a 2 kilo octopus in spring water. Bring a bottle of dry white wine, the octopus, 2 bay leaves and 10 pink peppercorns to a gentle simmer, slowly. Cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until the largest part of the tentacles around the skirt yield to your sharp knife. Reserve the broth and cool.

Remove the skin and cut the tentacles on the diagonal. Save the pieces of tentacles with thick, fatty skin for grilling tomorrow. Juicy.

The Potatoes
Clean 1 pound of Dark Red Norlands, French Fingerling or some other firm and creamy varietal. Cut into 1/2 in cubes and boil in the octopus broth with 2 pinches of salt until fork tender. Drain and cool.

The Toss
In a large glass bowl, combine the potatoes, the trimmed octopus, a handful of salted capers and a deseeded, cayenne minced finely. Add a pinch of smoked paprika, a handful of fino verde and some leaves of flat parsley. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and another drop. Squeeze in half a lemon to brighten the flavors. Taste for salt. You shouldn’t need much if you didn’t rinse your capers.

Serve with Il Mimo Nebbiolo Rosato. Finish the lunch with fresh figs, Parmigiano Reggiano and finally a small glass of calvados or Poire William.


Old San Juan

May 18, 2008

The 55 foot cabin cruiser maneuvered through the cut and entered the Xcalak Bay in high winds. A man in a white blazer and cap held his drink high and shouted “Double Nickels” as the Ocean Angel surfed in on 12 foot waves.

The crew of women looked like the United Colors of Benetton. These beauties came in all skin tones from the palest pink to the richest ebony. Through my binoculars, I could see their glasses all held the same garnet hued liquid. They sipped with passion, licking moist lips.

My attempts to secure an invite to cocktail hour were squashed both on the marine radio and in person. I was politely spoken down to in my humble dingy. Only women with bare toes were allowed on board. It was on these words that I caught the first scent of this mysterious elixir — orange bitters!

The third day I paddled up to the cruiser’s bow I found a deep mocha crew member with a glass to her lips. When she spoke, a tiny garnet drop launched from her perfectly pink tongue and landed on my cheek. I lashed my tongue like a lizard to capture the drop — dark rum and Dubonnet!

I’ve done my due diligence, David. After many hours in the cocktail lab, I’ve recreated magic potion. It’s a strong concoction, so sip it slowly. I enjoy mine with pistachios.

The Orange Bitters
I began with the recipe for Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 5 and made some modifications to taste. If you didn’t plan four weeks ahead, you can always buy commercially produced bitters. The final effect may not be as intense, but you’ll still win the prize.

8 ounces dried clementine peels chopped very finely
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds removed from the pods

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon quassia chips

1/2 teaspoon powdered cinchona bark

1/4 teaspoon gentian

2 cups grain alcohol
4 1/2 cups spring water

1 cup raw granulated sugar

Place the peel, cardamom seeds, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, quassia, cinchona bark, gentian, grain alcohol and 1/2 cup water into a half-gallon mason jar, push the ingredients down so that they are covered by the alcohol and water. Seal the jar.

Shake the jar vigorously every day for a fortnight while dancing in a circle.

Pour the concoction through a cheesecloth. Squeeze the cheese cloth tightly to extract as much alcohol as possible. Reserve the alcohol in a clean, sealed mason jar.

Muddle the seeds and stems in a or mortar, then bring to a boil in a sauce pan with the remaining 3 1/2 cups of water. Reduce heat, simmer for 10 mins and allow to cool.

Place the seeds, stems and the water back in the original jar. Do the agitation dance for 7 more day

Pour the water through a cheesecloth. Discard the dry ingredients and add the water to the alcohol.

Place the sugar into a small copper saucepan and place over a medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar becomes liquid and turns dark brown. Allow to cool for several minutes.

Pour the sugar into the alcohol/water mixture and allow the mixture to stand for seven days. Skim off any sediment from the surface and be careful not to stir up the bottom sediment.

Add four ounces of spring water, shake well and bottle.

Viejo San Juan
3 ounces of 7 year old rum
1 ounce Dubonnet
2 dashes of orange bitters

In a cocktail shaker, pour the rum and the Dubonnet over cracked ice. Add the orange bitters and gently shake. Pour into a large glass. Garnish with an orange slice.