Today it’s tako time! (And we’re having a giveaway, so make sure to read the whole post!)
But… don’t get that confused with tacos. There are no tortillas to be seen around here.
When we say tako, we mean octopus.
Tako is almost always cooked before eating; unlike many fish that are offered raw, octopus is cooked and brined before it is served as sushi. It’s rarely ever sold whole outside of Japan. (We want to know, have you ever seen a whole octopus for sale? If you happen to come into possession of one, here’s how to clean it.)
Unfortunately… octopus is not one of the more sustainable seafood options out there. Since Japan has a large octopus preparation industry, octopus from all over the world is exported into Japan, where it is prepared and frozen. Then it’s re-exported back to other countries where there is a demand for octopus in sushi.
What does this mean for you? It means that it’s really, really difficult to know where your octopus actually originated from… which is a big deal, because many countries do not have regulations in place for how they catch octopus, which means that it could potentially be very bad for the ocean.
However, it’s not all bad… if you can get tako that you know came from a Spanish fishery, most of their octopus is caught with pots (like little traps that they put in the ocean), which is much less disruptive than bottom trawling. (Bottom trawling involves dragging a net across the floor of the ocean… which is bad for the environment and catches all sorts of additional sea life that they aren’t aiming for.)
Morocco is starting to regulate their octopus fishing more, but it still may be a while before we can consider that to be a sustainable option.
Vietnam, Senegal, and Mauritania are all unregulated, so we don’t recommend eating any octopus from those countries’ fisheries, if you can help it.
In Hawaii, octopus is mostly caught by spearfishing or by lure-and-line, where a lure with many hidden hooks is used to snare octopuses when they pounce. There is very little bycatch associated with this technique. Plus on the bright side, octopuses are fast growing and produce numerous offspring. These traits, combined with a sustainable fishing method, make Hawaiian octopus a “Good Alternative.” The same goes for octopuses caught in the Gulf of California.
So assuming you can get a sustainable source for your octopus… how does one eat it?
Since the octopus feeds on other sushi ingredients, like crab, lobster, and scallops, its diet makes it high in protein and gives it excellent flavor. Thus it’s quite delicious as sushi. It has a very firm/chewy texture, and only the tentacles are used for sushi. Larger octopuses have thicker tentacles which are easier to slice for sushi.
Before it’s made into sushi, octopus is boiled, which tenderizes and firms the flesh. Its gray skin turns burgundy, and its flesh whitens, so it’s also much more appetizing looking when cooked. The boiling is done slowly, over low heat, because rapid boiling toughens the meat. The cooked tentacles are then cut diagonally into thin 1/8-inch slices.
Octopuses are also sometimes eaten live… the tentacles chopped off of live octopus and eaten raw, while still moving. This is very dangerous, because the suckers can stick to your throat and you can choke to death if you don’t swallow correctly. We don’t recommend doing this.
Takoyaki (たこ焼き) literally translates to mean fried/grilled octopus. But really… they’re OCTOPUS BALLS!
They are ball-shaped dumpling made from a batter that’s like a savory pancake batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan, known as a takoyakiki (たこ焼き器). It’s a special pan, usually made from cast iron, with spherical indentations in it. Kind of like an aebleskiver pan.
Takoyaki are typically filled with diced octopus, tempura “scraps” (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion, then brushed with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise, and sprinkled with aonori (fine seaweed flakes) and katsuobushi (shavings of dried bonito).
There’s actually a takoyaki museum in Osaka!
Even better, there’s a takoyaki song that Rachael and Allison are both addicted to:
(If you like the song, you can even download it on itunes!)
Another way to eat octopus is as Tako Su (tako no sunomono) which is an octopus salad. Sometimes this is served as an appetizer at Japanese restaurants, though it’s very easy to make yourself. It consists of thinly sliced octopus combined with thinly sliced cucumber, which is tossed in awase-zu, a dressing made from rice vinegar and sugar (sometimes soy sauce is added too).
At matsuri (festivals) sometimes you see grilled tentacles or whole baby octopus on skewers.
Dried octopus is kind of like octopus jerky, except not as chewy as beef jerky (and fishier).
Who wants to try some Octopus Ice Cream (“tako aisu”)? Andrew Zimmern tasted it for one of his Japan episodes… and, well, you can see for yourself how much he liked it.
Then, of course, there’s the Octodog – a mini hotdog shaped like an octopus. Your kids will think you’re seriously cool if you make these for them.
On a non-tako note, we think you should visit FarmPlate.com – a nationwide listing of sustainable businesses in the US!
We’re having a giveaway!
We need your help coming up with names for our cute little pink tako mascot.
You can win one of three Rice Cubes (generously donated to us by Rice Cube!)
All you have to do is leave a comment on this post with a suggestion for what we should name her.
We will pick three random winners (you don’t have to have our “favorite” entry to win… it will be entirely random.)
1 entry per person (but you can leave as many name suggestions as you’d like). You have until 11:59pm PST on Monday, February 27 to enter (that’s one week from today!) We’ll ship internationally, so anyone can enter!