But as they paddled nearer to the object, they realized this was no shipwreck: A giant squid reared up, striking their boat with its horny beak. The water turned black with ink as the animal draped a meaty tentacle around the craft. A second tentacle shot from the water, and the squid began pulling the boat into the deep. Just as it began to capsize, twelve-year-old Tom Piccott severed one of the squid's tentacles with a hatchet, causing the creature to release its grip.
The Piccotts survived the attack. Tom kept the tentacle, all nineteen feet of it, as a souvenir, and when they came ashore he presented it to one Moses Harvey, a clergyman who had written extensively about the island's natural history. One month later, another giant squid turned up — this time intact.
"I was now the possessor of one of the rarest curiosities in the whole animal kingdom — the veritable arm of the hitherto mythical devilfish, about whose existence naturalists had been disputing for centuries," Harvey later recalled. "I knew that I held in my hand the key of the great mystery."
There's still plenty of mystery to the reclusive Architeuthis dux. This is an animal scientists believe can grow to more than 60 feet and can weigh nearly a ton. For years their tremendous carcasses would occasionally wash up on the shores of Tasmania. A few years back, a crew of French sailors reported that a giant squid had attacked their yacht off the coast of Madeira. It was not until 2004, though, that Japanese researchers finally managed to photograph a giant squid in its natural habitat. Two years later those same researchers hauled one of the beasts from the waters of the northern Pacific by using smaller squid for bait.
What did they learn from the fishing expedition? This: Giant squids eat their own.
What did I learn? This: The Japanese clearly were not baiting their hooks with SABA Sisig Spicy Squid Bits.
Packaged in a small purple can that promises its innards are "open & serve" tasty, SABA Sisig squid is the sort of offensive C-ration that might be on Gitmo's carte de jour. It looks and smells like cat food fresh from the can, and I can't imagine a person — or a cephalopod — eating it by choice.
The dish improves a touch after a minute or two in the saucepan. It even turns out that the brown, oily cubes of squid are accompanied by a rarity in canned cuisine: a recognizable ingredient. In the case of SABA Sisig squid, that ingredient is garlic, whose flavor manages to punch through the product's squiddy film long enough to almost redeem the dish.
Almost. As I start to gag, it hits me: I'm the possessor of one of the rarest curiosities of culinary science — a veritable mythical-devilfish-in-a-can. Unlike Moses Harvey, however, I'd rather forget this mystery, and return the key.
Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to email@example.com.