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Paul The Octopus Will Not Be Served For Dinner

For those of of you who have been living under a rock for the past week or so, there is an octopus in Germany named Paul who picks soccer games with startling accuracy.  Since the start of the World Cup, Paul the Octopus has correctly predicted all six of Germany’s victories, and most recently picked Spain in their victory over Germany in the semi-final round (he also picked four out of  six of Germany’s games in the UEFA Euro 2008).

Most recently, Paul has picked Spain to beat the Netherlands in the Final (and has picked Germay over Uruguay in the 3rd place game).  So – why report about this on a food blog?  Well, Paul’s prognostications have been inextricably linked to the subject of food based on the repeated calls for Paul to be eaten in retaliation for his unfavorable predictions.  Now, Paul is just calling them as he sees them and can hardly be blamed for Germany’s defeat (or any other team ‘s defeat).  However, this has not stopped soccer fans from speculating as to how Paul would taste grilled, with a splash of lemon and maybe some good olive oil.

Paul’s handlers at the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, have stated that this is not going to happen (and in fact, the aquarium has taken extra security precuations to prevent crazed soccer fans from attacking).  However, there are still many anonymous untalented octopi out there that you can eat for dinner if you are so inclined.

The challenge in cooking octopus is, as I understand it, to make sure that it comes out tender – as octopus is otherwise particularly rubbery and chewy.  Interestingly, several chefs, such as Mario Batali, claim that the best way to tenderize the octopus is to simmer it along with a cork from a wine bottle.  Batali provides no technical explanation as to why this would work – and, indeed, my survey of relevant articles on the internets provides no satisfactory information either, apart from some vague suggestion that there are “enzymes” in the cork that help tenderize octopus.  What I have noticed, however, is that the chefs who espouse this method are uniformly Italian (e.g., Lidia Bastianich, and others).  It is also clear to me that that wine corks are fully sterilized and chlorinated before being stuck in the bottles, so I am not sure what active ingredients would remain.

In short, I can find nothing that entirely disproves this theory, but neither can I find anything that explains why it is anything more than an old wive’s tale, or some sort of Italian cooking superstition.  I suppose the only way to test the theory would be to cook two batches of octopus under extremely controlled, consistent conditions – one with cork and one without.  But that sort of test cooking is nothing I have any interest in doing, at least not right now, so it will remain a mystery for the time being.

However, Paul the octopus can continue to swim freely, secure in the knowledge that while his brethren may appearing nightly on the Babbo menu, he has nothing to fear and can continue picking soccer games and receiving worldwide acclaim.

UPDATE:

Lest some readers think that Paul’s freakish accuracy is merely based on chance, it should be noted that he correctly picked Germany as the winner of the third place game, and correctly picked Spain as winner in the final match. ALL HAIL PAUL! Soon all will bow before Paul, but for now he will be taking a position at Goldman Sachs, which he read great things about in a Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi.

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