How To Scare An Octopus At Chicago Gourmet

Chicago puts itself on the front burner this weekend with the inaugural Chicago Gourmet, a weekend-long festival of food and wine attended by chefs and sommeliers near and far. Special MenuPages correspondents Bridget Houlihan and Tammy Green, of the dining podcast Chicago Bites, are on the scene. Today: Food demos!

Jose Garces, head chef at Chicago’s Mercat a la Planxa, prepares octopus.

Do you know how to “scare” an octopus? Dip it in boiling water three times before dropping it in to cook.

No joke. This simple technique, known as scaring, tenderizes the octopus, making it more succulent to eat.

Jose Garces, the head chef at Chicago’s Mercat a la Planxa, explained this to a captive audience yesterday during a Best of Spain and Mexico cooking demonstration at Chicago Gourmet.

Sharing the stage with Rick Bayless, Garces got everyone’s attention before he even started cooking, simply by holding up the octopus. Then he showed us how to cook it. I know I’m not ready to give this a shot myself, but it was utterly fascinating to watch. Until yesterday, I had absolutely no idea how to “scare” an octopus.

You know what else? Start saving the corks from the red wine you drink. When you throw them in the boiling water with the octopus it adds to the flavor. Cool, huh?

Watching a cooking demo at Chicago Gourmet is what I imagine it would be like to be on the set of a cooking show that airs on the Food Network. The stage at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park is currently the home of a snazzy looking kitchen set, complete with professional appliances and cookware. Large mirrors hang over the prep tables so that you can watch the chefs work.

And it’s really fun to watch a great chef cook. They make it look easy. Cooking and plating well is an art… and I like to see it as it happens.

Having said that, I must admit that I don’t watch cooking demos often. That’s because I find it very dissatisfying not to be able to taste the food I’m watching people prepare. I know for a fact that if I were to make the same dish myself it wouldn’t taste as good. So I was really hoping to get to taste the food after watching live cooking demos.

No such luck. In some cases, I could find samples of the dish made in a demo at a tasting table later in the day, but not always.

Still, the demos were great to watch and they may even inspire me to cook! Garces certainly inspired me to eat: Tammy and I made our way Mercat a la Planxa for dinner last night and splurged on not one, but two orders of octopus.—BRIDGET HOULIHAN

After the jump, photos of Rick Bayless’s two demo dishes, plus salted cactus!

Rick Bayless’ demo dish: Stewed ribeye.

A sample portion of the ribeye, served up at a tasting table later.

Salted cactus from another demo, “The Best of Latin Flavors.”

[All photos by Tammy Green. All rights reserved.]

How To Scare An Octopus At Chicago Gourmet