Octopus: A Taste of the Mediterranean

Octopus may not be one of your go-to ingredients, but once you figure it out, it’s fun, a little exotic and very tasty.  I like to keep it simple so the briny creature itself really shines, such as in a grilled octopus salad with pickled shallots, some warm flatbread and a light vinaigrette.  Cooking octopus is much like cooking squid: either do it low and slow or hot and quick.  I tenderize our eight-legged friend in wine and stock, quickly finishing it over a hot grill.  I embrace the practice of adding a few wine corks to the tenderizing liquid.  This may only be a Mediterranean superstition, but it seems to work and makes me feel very Old World. It’s better than beating it against a rock like the Greeks!  

 If you buy a fresh octopus (I would be amazed if you found one in the States), make sure your fishmonger has cleaned it (removed the stomach, ink sacs and the maw).  Frozen octopi are almost always cleaned before freezing, so defrosting in the refrigerator for 24 hours is all that’s necessary.

 Grilled Octopus Salad with Pickled Shallots and Anchovy Vinaigrette

 Rinse a medium octopus (about 2 or 3 pounds) under cold water and pat dry. 

 Bring 4 cups of chicken stock to a boil, add the octopus, ½ cup of dry white wine, 5 or 6 wine corks and ½ of a lemon.  Cook over medium high heat until tender, about 45 minutes (check with a sharp knife, just like you would a potato).    While the octopus is cooking, bring ¾ cups of sherry vinegar just to a boil.  Thinly slice 2 shallots and place them in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling vinegar over them.  Let stand for twenty minutes and drain. 

 When tender, remove the octopus and let cool slightly.  Mix about ¼ cup roasted red peppers, 2 anchovies and 1 teaspoon of good balsamic vinegar with a little salt and pepper, gently breaking up the roasted pepper pieces to make a paste.  Slowly add 1½ tablespoons olive oil, whisking steadily and continuously to emulsify the vinaigrette.

 Light a charcoal grill.  Cut the octopus tentacles and head (if you want) into large pieces and brush with a mixture of 1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ tablespoon lemon juice, salt and pepper.  When the fire is hot, grill the octopus pieces until just seared on the outside, being careful not to cook too long.  Remove to a platter and set aside.

 Lightly toss a cup of arugula with some of the vinaigrette, place on top of 4 slices of warm naan or other flatbread, add octopus and top with pickled shallots and more dressing.  If at all possible, eat outside, sip you wine and savor the fruits of your labor!

 Serves 4 as a main course salad                 Wine pairing:  Try an inexpensive Rene Barbier Mediterranean white, a summery rose from Provence or maybe even a Greek Gai’a if you can find it.

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