One of the most peculiar things to see in La Herradura during the forties and the fifties was people drying octopuses out in the open in the full sun. They used to hang them outside the beach bars.
My father couldn’t come out of the sea without an octopus wrapped around his shoulders.He was often bitten by their strange, parrot-like beaks but he always let the octopus go free. I never followed his example of catching octopuses – perhaps through fear of being bitten, but probably more because I was already an ecologist back then and I liked to show my respect to the animals in a different way, by simply observing them.
In those old days it was impossible for a diver not to spot an octopus as there were so many of them.
Of course, the octopus can be found all over the world but the type that is most common here is the Octopus Vulgaris which can reach a length of three metres and weigh as much as 12 kilograms.
Generally speaking these invertebrates are highly intelligent creatures and the females care for their offspring continuously, without even stopping to get food for themselves, which often results in their dying of starvation.
I don’t know if any marine biologist is currently studying the possibility of building up the octopus population in La Herradura bay, but it would be a pity if they’re aren’t. Ever the optimist, I think an increase in octopuses could be achieved, for example, by laying special, purpose-built vessels on the bottom of the sea and by imposing far stricter controls on poaching.
By doing that, I believe that in few years the octopus population could grow to such an extent that poaching could even become legal. Poachers would, in effect, become ‘legal hunters’ with a set quota and this would benefit La Herradura and still satisfy local demand for this traditional dish.
Recently some friends and I bought an octopus at the market and we decided to prepare it the old-fashioned way. We dried it in the sun for a whole day in a special box made of mosquito netting and then we cooked it over charcoal with dried pineapples.
It was delicious – a true delicacy. In the past the octopus might have been food for the poor, but nowadays in many restaurants it is even more expensive than Serrano Ham.
If you intend to visit La Herradura it is an absolute must to try this special dish, at least once.
Ángel Galdo Fuentes