Eat And Be Eaten
I’d like to be under the sea, In an octopus’ garden with you.
By Randall Grantham Community Columnist
I just read in the paper today of a shortage of stone crabs this season. Boats that are used to bringing in 400 to 500 lbs. of stone crab claws are coming back to port with 50 lbs. This is not only not enough for the customer demand, it’s not even enough to cover the cost of taking the boat out to pull the traps.
If you’re not familiar with stone crabs, they are a sustainable resource like no other. The animal is lured into a trap and then, when the trap is pulled, assuming they are legally large enough, their claws are harvested, much like the way a lizard will drop its tail when molested, and the crabs are returned to the depths to regenerate those claws.
Used to be, only one claw could be taken, leaving the crab with the other one for feeding and fighting, but not too many years ago scientists found that the animal can make it just fine with no claws, regenerating both, while surviving and even flourishing. I have no idea how that could be, but science is science, so I just eat ‘em up, yum.
Anyway, this year, for a variety of reasons, the harvest is way down. Those reasons are thought to include the warmer waters of the gulf due to global warming (there go those scientists again), and mild weather - storms and waves seem to get the crabs moving more and the stirred up silt on the bottom is thought to make them feel more secure and less apt to be snacked upon by passing predators.
But also this year the octopus have moved in. Not only do they love stone crab as much as we do, but because of their slippery, slimy tentacles, and their ability to contort their bodies into small spaces, like stone crab traps, they are able to get in and eat the crabs.
And they don’t just eat the claws like we do and release the animal for next year’s harvest. They kill the crustaceans and eat the whole innards, leaving nothing for us this year or ever.
To be honest, I knew all of this before reading the article this morning. I had been up to Homosassa a few weeks ago and went to my local fishhouse (Shelly’s Fish House - if you’re in the area. Tell them I sent you.). They had no stone crab despite the fact that they run their own boats and don’t have to depend on third-party suppliers.
They told me the same thing - The weather wasn’t conducive and the octopus had moved in.
There’s no accounting for the weather, but the octopus invasion seems to be a cyclical thing, occurring every 7-10 years. When the traps are pulled, very often the octopus is still in there, either finishing its meal, or sleeping off a recently-consumed feast.
Once the trap gets up on the boat, the eight-legged sea spider escapes from the confines of the stone crab trap and slithers around on the deck of the boat, sometimes even crawling up a mate’s leg where it can do damage with its sharp beak that is strong enough to puncture the rock-hard shell of the stone crab.
The good news is, octopus are good eating! Yes, I know they’re supposedly smart sea creatures and all that tree-hugger BS, but they’ve burglarized a structure, killed its occupant, stolen our food and then tried to attack the rightful owner of the trap. Eating them is the least we can do.
So if, on your next trip to the seafood store, the purveyor is out of stone crab, ask them if they have any octopus. And to get you started, here is simple recipe that will deliver a delightful dinner.
Polpi in Umido -- Italian Octopus Stewed in Wine and Tomatoes Ingredients: 1 lb octopus, either small or large, cleaned 4 T. olive oil 4 cloves finely chopped garlic 1 cup crushed tomatoes or peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes 1 cup white wine 2 T. honey or sugar 2 T. chopped fresh dill 4 T. chopped fresh parsley 1 t. chile flakes 2 T. capers (optional) Salt and pepper Preparation: Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. Toss the octopus into the boiling water, return to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove. Discard water. Cut the octopus into large pieces and saute in olive oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add the wine and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir well and let it cook down for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chile flakes and bring to a simmer. Add about a teaspoon of salt and the honey or sugar. Mix well, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. At 30 minutes, add the capers if you are using them, plus half the dill and half the parsley. Check the octopus -- sometimes small ones will be tender in just 30 minutes. If they are still super-chewy, cover the pot again and simmer for up to another 45 minutes. When you think you are about 10 minutes away from being done, uncover the pot and turn the heat up a little to cook down the sauce. To serve, add the remaining dill and parsley and black pepper. Eat this with pasta or bread.
(Randall C. Grantham is a fifth generation Floridian and lifelong resident who practices law from his offices on Dale Mabry Highway in Lutz . He can be reached at LutzLaw@aol.com. Copyright 2012 RCG)