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Salad And A Side Of Flying Saucers


June 24, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

I adore octopus, even preferring it to lobster. I like to braise it in a savory wine sauce enriched with a tomato sofrito or simply boil it and season it with olive oil and paprika in the style of Galicia. I am also fond of boiled octopus in salads dressed with homemade mayonnaise or vinaigrette. I once dined on an extraordinary such dish in Puerto Rico that came with a UFO story.

The warm waters of La Parguera, a fishing cove off the southern coast of Puerto Rico, teem with fish. I was staying in a rustic fisherman's cabin built on stilts, and from the veranda I could see small snappers, Irish pompano (mojarras), blowfish and trunk fish. Beyond the mangrove keys that fringed the cove, fishermen caught silk red snapper (chillo) and tasty yellowtail (colirrubia). Close to shore, they lured octopuses from the rocky bottom.

At night, the octopuses come out of hiding to feed on mollusks, crabs and lobster, their favorite food. With such a diet, it is no surprise that their meat is as sweet and succulent as any shellfish.

One starry night, a local woman named Mina Cote invited us on a fishing outing. Expertly, she steered her flat-bottomed boat (yola) through the lush mangrove keys while seabirds flew shrieking into the dark. As we approached the Key of the White Birds, an islet on the edge of the deepest part of the cove, she turned off the engine and stood up, pointing to the water.

''This is where I saw a blinding light and a mother ship coming up from the water,'' Mina announced, waving her arm. Lightning flickered in the night sky, thunder rumbled in the distance and Mina's tiny yola lurched so alarmingly that we insisted she save her story until we were safely back in the cabin.

Over a robust dinner of rice with pigeon peas and a fabulous octopus salad, Mina and some of her neighbors regaled us with stories of UFOs (OVNIS in Spanish).

One had occurred while she was fishing near the spot we'd just come from. On another occasion, she said, ''I was busy in the kitchen scaling fish when I turned around and saw four luminous revolving spheres hovering near the door as if they were watching me.'' And just the day before, ``as I walked through the marshes looking for wild cucumbers for this octopus salad, I saw the lights following me again.''

The rest of our meal was accompanied by Mina's detailed explanations of a mother ship from some unknown galaxy concealed beneath the waters sending out small probes to scout La Parguera.

''Mina, what a coincidence,'' I told her between bites. ``Every time you met the aliens you were gathering ingredients or cooking. I think they came here looking for out-of-this-world food.''


Maricel E. Presilla is the chef-co-owner of Cucharamama and Zafra in Hoboken, N.J. Her latest book is The New Taste of Chocolate.

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