cooking an octopus

I try to be a humble cook. I don’t take compliments well. I don’t like to brag.

But when it comes to octopus, I have to.

This might be the best octopus dish I’ve ever eaten.

trying to escape

The tentacles are cooked in a salty vegetable or chicken stock for an hour until they’re soft. We roll it in good olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and get it a little crispy on the fire grill. After squeezing a lemon on it, we chop it into a few good size pieces and serve it on a small mound of flavorful heirloom beans that have been cooked in a veggie stock with little dried chipotle pepper. Then it’s all topped with a tablespoon of good fatty Greek yogurt and a tarragon salsa.

Now, like most recipes, this one has been a collaborative one. I’ve only found a couple different places across the country that have developed a really delicious pulpo plate, and this is an amalgam of those. It’s taken a few years to figure out, but I think I now have a tried and true octopus recipe that works every time.

Before you start, be sure you cook some beans to go with this dish. We use heirloom cannellinis and Christmas limas from Rancho Gordo. I’ve also used white beans simmered in a bit of sweet vinegar-y cumin based stock. Either way, plan a day ahead.

The Cooking Liquid

Water, about a gallon or two… but chicken stock is much tastier if you happen to have some lying around. I’ve used ‘vegetarian chicken flavored powder’ from Frontier COOP for extra depth, too.

big guys

4 bay leaves

1 large pinch mexican oregano

1 large-ish carrot peeled and quartered

1 large onion, peeled and halved

1 stick of celery, halved

6 cloves of garlic

salt, enough to make it taste like the ocean

The octopus is cut along the ribbing between tentacles, and the tentacles snipped at the base of the head. Continue along each arm, trimming most of the webbing in between (it’s not particularly necessary to trip all the webbing, though). Trim the skinniest part of the tentacle at the ends, or else they will burn on the grill.

Meanwhile, you should have your cooking liquid at a full boil. Gently place each tentacle in the water and bring it back up to a full boil. Once it boils, turn down to a simmer, cover, and set your timer for an hour. That’s it. Test with a small sharp knife or bamboo skewer – it should slide right in without any resistance. If you meet any resistance, cover and let simmer another ten to fifteen minutes. Careful – it is possible to overcook an octopus. It will become mushy and formless, and will stick to the grill when it’s time for that.

Remove your cooked octopus from the liquid and refrigerate until ready to grill.

Char-grill and Serve

While your charcoal or gas grill or wood-fired oven gets hot, make your tarragon salsa:

1 shallot, minced

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

a small handful fresh tarragon

an equal amount of italian parsley

about a half cup of good e.v. olive oil

salt and pepper

Add your diced shallots to the rice vinegar (‘macerate‘). Finely mince your herbs with a sharp knife and place immediately in olive oil to keep them from turning black. After a few minutes the shallots will be pink and sweet. Add the shallots to your herbs with half or all the vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I like to throw in a few red pepper flakes as well.

To serve, warm up your beans with plenty of their own stock. Roll the tentacles around in good olive oil and place on a very hot grill. Season with salt and pepper. Your grill might flame up, but you don’t want it to burn. Burnt octopus is weird and bitter, though it should have a charred flavor. Sear it just long enough to heat it through, give it a couple of turns and keep it off the flames if they’re still flaring up. Remove and squeeze a bit of lemon on there. This is the trickiest part of the whole process, I think. You want to crisp up the skin, but you don’t want it black. Just don’t worry too much about getting it warmed all the way through. If you do, you’ll probably kill it.

On the plate put a teaspoon of yogurt down (this helps your beans stay in one place). Put a good couple tablespoons of hot beans on the yogurt, a spoonful of yogurt on top of the beans, your chopped char-grilled octopus, then a little spoonful of the tarragon salsa. Garnish with a pinch of sumac or sweet paprika.

final product

The end result is a plate that is creamy in texture, the octopus is sweet and buttery and soft almost like lobster, the sage-tinged beans rustic and savory. The lemon and tarragon keep everything nice and bright, and that little bit of macerated shallot cleans it all up with a nice acidic finish.

Enjoy.

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