Terracotta Octopus Pots? What the heck?

Terracotta Octopus Pots?  What the heck?

Pulpo a la gallega is very famous in Spain.  Pulpo is octopus and "a la gallega" refers to how the octopus is prepared for eating.  Basically, there is a necessary procedure for cooking octopus so that it does not become rubbery to eat.  The cooking to tender is the most important step.  The final dressing or seasoning is really simple (olive oil & paprika).  Besides the octopus, the most important ingredient in the dish is a healthy dose of premium quality, flavorful, extra virgin olive oil.  And then as a finishing touch, usually a sprinkling of spicy paprika.  Properly prepared, octopus is absolutely delicious.  In addition to being eaten as an entree it is enjoyed in many types of salads and rice dishes.  If you visit Spain, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy a meal at a "Pulperia", which is a restaurant where almost the only thing that is prepared is octopus.  Many times the octopus is prepared in front of patrons, usually in large metal cauldrons.  It is a enjoyable gastronomical experience.

Since I am a big fan of pulpo and other delicious sea creatures, I keep my eyes and ears open and try to learn about where to enjoy new eating experiences.  On a recent day trip to the beaches of Islantilla,  my beautiful wife Pia, ever up for getting off the beaten track, found a boat tour of the bay area of Islantilla, which is quite near Portugal.  The boat tour guide was really interesting because he not only talked about the development of the area, but also about the fishing industry.  And one thing I learned is that the coast of Huelva is one of the most important producers of octopus.  One guy suggested that more octopus are harvested in the waters around Huelva than in Galicia, which is famous for octopus (pulpo).  

Another detail that caught my attention is that one of the principal instruments used for capturing octopus is a terracotta tinaja!  What?  A terracotta tinaja?  Yeah. hahaha

Holding a terracotta tinaja used for capturing octopus in Huelva Spain

Since I work a lot with tinajas and terracotta as part of my business of Cactus Canyon Ceramics, I found this really interesting.  I asked the tour guide where the terracotta tinajs were produced and of course he said "Bailen".  For years I have been going to Bailen for business related to garden pots so this was not a surprise but it was interesting to confirm.

On my next trip to Bailen, I made a point of asking some questions regarding tinajas used for capturing octopus, and I ended up at Ceramica Artistica Los Angeles, where the owner Vicente showed me around and explained some about the production of tinajas for pulpo.  

Vicente explained that he will produce and send more than 100,000 tinajas to the coast of Huelva during a year.  Yeah, 100,000!  He explained that he produces three different versions of the tinaja and that each shape is used at different depths. 

Tinjas used for capturing octopus in Spain

The pots are very crude and will have natural flaws in them.  In fact, once the pot is pressed, they do not smooth off the edges.  The idea is to create a homey nook that has the same feel as a cranny in a rock or corral reef along the coast.  Fishermen have tried using plastic pots but the octopus do not like the feel of the plastic, ... but they do like terracotta.  I asked if the pots were baited?  Vicente said no.  The octopus climb into them because they feel like it is a nice, safe nook to curl up in.

unfinished edge of a pulpo maceta

The pots are strung with a float just like a multi-hook fishing line or crab pots.  And later in the day or the next day, the fishermen will return, pull the string of pots out of the water and if there is an octopus in the pot, they apply a powerful squirt of water through the hole at the bottom of the tinaja, and out splats the octopus on the deck.

It occurred to me that many people might enjoy having a Spanish "pulpo" pot in their yard.  The size of a octopus pot is approximately 11 inches tall by 8.5 inches wide at the widest point.  The pots would be rustic and age well.  The hole in the bottom is slightly larger than a standard drain hole.  I think they would be a very interesting addition to most people's patios and yards. 

Let me know what you think.  Comments or questions are always welcome. - Steve

p.s. If you are interesting in learning how the terracotta tinajas are pressed, check out the following video.  Thanks to Vicente at Ceramica Artistica Los Angeles for showing me around and also to Antonio who was kind enough to demonstrate the mechanized potting process.




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