Battle: Octopus!

Now it is certain.  If I am ever to challenge any Iron Chef at Battle Octopus, I am confident that I will come out a champion.  Those that know me well know that I am addicted to Spanish cuisine – so with the acquisition of Gerald Hirigoyen’s recent cookbook Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition, I knew that I was going to be cooking some stupendous meals in the near future.  I have eaten octopus in Spain, Italy, and here in the good ol’ US of A, and every time I have been in love.  What’s not to like?  Octopus is solid flesh – no gristle, bones, sinews or any other unsavory textures to contend with.  It tastes like the sea in a most unoffensive way, and has a lovely toothsome-ness to it’s texture.  Like I said, I love it!  So, when I was flipping through my new cookbook and spotted the beautiful picture and recipe for Octopus Murcia (a cold salad), I HAD TO HAVE IT.  I got on the phone to my local butcher, Frank Pace at Healthy Living, and ordered up my very own cephalopod!  He had it the very next day, and I was so excited – I felt like I had just received the very coolest present I could have possibly ever received.  Incidentally, Spencer is relieved to discover that for all future gift-giving events, an octopus will make his gal happy!  I hope some of you try to cook an octopus in your life, it is a very cool project, with stellar results, and you’ll feel like an Iron Chef, too!  Now, on to the recipe, and ¡buen provecho!

Octopus Murcia by Gerald Hirigoyen, serves 4

  • one cleaned, whole octopus (4-5 pounds)
  • 1 carrot, cut into 1½ inch pieces
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 1½ inch pieces
  • 1 onion, cut into 1½ inch pieces
  • ½ head garlic, cloves peeled but not chopped
  • 2 T. black peppercorns
  • 3-6 bottles of beer, depending on the size of pot
  • 1 T. chopped shallot
  • 3 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ c. fresh cilantro leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ½ pound fingerling potatoes, cooked, cooled and cut into wedges
  • fleur de sel for finishing

Make ready your ingredients: carrot, onion, celery, garlic, peppercorns and beer

Clean your octopus in cold water…

…and pause to appreciate the gorgeous skin, and suction cups on the tentacles.  What a stupendous creature!!

Add octopus to pot.  I used a 6 quart pot – the octopus took up about a third of it.

Add all the seasonings to the octopus: carrot, garlic, onion, celery and peppercorns

Add beer to pot.  I used some homebrew – an Irish red ale.  It took 3 beers to fill the pot halfway, which is as full as you want to go. Hirigoyen recommends Anchor Steam beer, but states that any good beer will do.

To the octopus, seasonings, and beer – add a couple of wine corks.  This is my own addition based on readings, and Frank Pace’s suggestion – Hirigoyen doesn’t mention corks in this recipe.  I liked the idea and thought it added to the coolness of the recipe, so in they went!  They are supposed to assist in tenderizing the octopus.

Bring octopus to a boil, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove cover and simmer for another 45 minutes, or until octopus feels tender.

When you have determined your octopus is done, remove from cooking liquid and let cool in a bowl on the counter.  Discard corks and cooking liquid.

When octopus is cold enough to handle, using kitchen shears, remove tentacles from the body.  Discard head and body of octopus, and refrigerate tentacles until ready to use.

It actually is quite a bit of meat!

Assemble your other ingredients when octopus is cool: cooked, then cooled fingerling potatoes and shallot-cilantro dressing (whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, shallot, cilantro and salt and pepper to taste – a splash of sherry vinegar can’t hurt either!).  Because I had it on hand (go figure), some microgreens or other spicy greens go nicely with this dish.  Cut up the potatoes, and lightly dress them with a little of the vinaigrette.  Do the same to your greens, and the octopus – each dressed separately.

The plated meal – the red sauce is mojo rojo (pureèd roasted red peppers with toasted almonds, garlic, olive oil and salt) that I made – goes great with potatoes.  I topped the octopus with a little piment d’esplette and fleur de sel.

This was far and away one of the coolest meals I’ve ever made.  Some thoughts:

  1. My octopus was a little pricey – about 70 bucks.  However, I know it was of incredibly high quality, was extremely fresh, caught sustainably, and obtained through a very short chain of people.  I value all of these things very highly and think that I am very lucky to have access to incredible seafood.  However, not everyone can spend that for one piece of protein.  I would recommend making this a special dinner, or try to find your octopus at an ethnic market.  I’ve heard it’s possible to find them there and cheaper, too.  That said, I am happy that I had the octopus from the source that I did – it was a fabulously fresh animal that tasted amazing.
  2. I love octopi.  I am one of those people that love those tanks at aquariums where you can touch critters – starfish, urchins, sea cucumbers… I have never touched an octopus until now, and really enjoyed marveling at its texture, its beautiful colors, sticky suction cups, and elegant tentacles.  I can honestly say that I respected this animal, appreciated all of its beauty and did it justice with this meal.  It was delicious.  SO. DELICIOUS!  Thank you, octopus.
  3. Have confidence that you can make this crowd-wowing dish with grace and success.  Just try it!  Invite some of your favorite people over and feel like an Iron Chef!

3 Responses

  1. crankycheryl says:

    This is fabulous, Mara. I share your appreciation for these amazing creatures – their beauty and their deliciousness too. For a thriftier version, might squid be adapted?

  2. Mara says:

    Hey there Cheryl,
    I suppose squid could be used, though the boil would be shorter, probably just 45 minutes total. I do love how the octopus gets all purple-y though!

  3. Wow, just wow. I’m having trouble finding words. Beautiful tribute to a beautiful creature indeed, and very informative photos. Wow.

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