At Rosette, chef Nick Curtin adds unexpected twists to classic, approachable flavors. The baby octopus appetizer is a prime example. When I tasted it, I immediately recognized familiar flavors but couldn’t pinpoint what they were. The tender yet charred octopus is served over a bed of Anson Mills Carolina Gold rice. There was complexity in both the octopus and rice, and at the same time the dish resonated on the palate like comfort food.
Curtin was raised in Virginia and Rhode Island, so his love for seafood and barbecue inspired this dish: “Octopus is one of my favorite ingredients, especially when charred, and the meatiness holds up so well to barbecue flavors.” The octopus is cooked in a low oven until tender, and then tossed in a smoking cast-iron pan to char with a basic barbecue sauce mixed with a tamari glaze. Curtin notes that the rice is actually the star of the dish. Cooked to a unique texture where you can taste every grain, the rice is finished with butter and minced mint. It’s spooned onto the plate in the form of a well that Curtin fills with a dot of barbecue sauce and a pool of squid ink emulsion made with silken tofu, squid ink, lemon juice and grape seed oil. When the dish is served, the octopus covers the squid ink emulsion, so there’s an element of surprise in finding it. Most surprising is how well the trio of octopus, rice and sauce complement one another. The final touch of toasted, chopped peanuts tops it off with one more dash of Southern twang and a great crunchy texture. I’m glad to hear that the baby octopus, one of Rosette’s most popular dishes, is on the menu to stay!