Kicking off Weird Combinations with the pairing of OCTOPUS and BLACKBERRY. This dish was a result of me testing out a theory that similarly colored foods often taste good together, and seeing how successful this pairing was certainly motivated me keep digging. There’s some really fascinating research on what makes for good flavor at a molecular level — I mentioned in my Pantry Engineering post on umami agents how combining a variety of amino acids and nucleotides make for greater complexity in a dish; the book The Flavor Matrix encourages pairing foods that share aromatic chemical compounds, which yields surprising results like white chocolate & caviar; however separate research shows E. Asian cuisines tend to AVOID in the “shared compounds theory” and its ingredients have more crossovers with Latin American and S. European ingredients while N. America and W. Europe ingredients are heavily tied. (This seems an potential reason why the American palate finds certain cuisines more difficult to accept, and potentially why certain cuisines seem to more naturally fuse well together — or maybe it’s the other way around and those flavor pairings developed due to historical immigration / trade patterns?)
I’ve long been documenting odd flavor combinations that did and didn’t work over the years, but I never organized them anywhere. I figured this series could be an ongoing experiment as I 1. try to figure out why certain odd pairings seem to taste good together and 2. play with new ideas of combinations from different hypotheses behind the science of optimal flavor. Please join in with your suggestions, thoughts, factoids as the series continues!
For this visually complementary but odd-sounding combination of octopus and blackberry, it doesn’t seem the two ingredients contain a lot of similar volatile compounds. (If you’re wondering how to look this up yourself, you can go over to the Volatile Compounds in Foods website.) So my hypothesis is that this works either because they are in such high contrast to each other or because of the different amino acids present. Even though they are both purple, since they aren’t both plants there doesn’t seem to be an obvious chemical link (as far as I know).
If you would like to recreate this at home, a guide to each component: Octopus terrine: raw octopus blanched 1 minute, cleaned, quartered, SV at 175F for 5 hrs with generous amount of lemon verbena, pressed & chilled, sliced. Chrysanthemum puree: blanch, puree hot with raw garlic, salt. Purple potato foam: peel potatoes, boil until soft, puree with sautéed onion & garlic, salt & white pepper with milk until smooth; strain into ISI whipping canister, charge with nitrogen and dispense. Blackberry: raw, sliced. Mustard caviar: pressure cook 30 minutes with mace and rosemary.