We love octopus whether it is braised in tomato sauce and wine, grilled, or roasted but it is very difficult to find fresh octopus locally here in Umbria which is the only landlocked region in Italy. I recently came across a recipe in a special issue of the Italian version of La Cucina Italiana for a delicious looking octopus salad that really appealed to me. Although I am a firm believer that “fresh is always best”, I decided to take the plunge and give frozen octopus a try since finding fresh octopus would be difficult and expensive here. Never having cooked frozen octopus before, I was a little hesitant to try it, but I headed off to our local frozen food store to see what they had to offer. I found octopus of varying sizes but this recipe called for the large variety so I picked up two and headed home to create my salad.
The recipe is a simple one as many great Italian recipes are, calling for cooked octopus, roasted cherry tomatoes, fresh peppery arugula, olive oil, salt and pepper. I did follow the recipe exactly as it was written the first time I made this salad and it was indeed delicious and was pleased to find that the frozen octopus once cooked tasted exactly like it’s fresh version. Although I loved the salad and found it to be a perfect dinner choice for our steamy hot summer days here in Umbria, I thought I’d prefer the crispness of fresh cherry tomatoes instead of the roasted ones the recipe called for. I made the salad once more using fresh cherry tomatoes and added a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar and it was indeed a memorable salad I will be making often. Aged balsamic can be quite expensive but a little does go a long way. If it is cost prohibitive though, you can create a lower cost version (not as good but acceptable) by reducing regular balsamic vinegar on the stove top until it is thickened.
I was surprised to find that frozen octopus is actually easier to cook than it’s fresh cousin as it tenderizes much quicker. I simply braised the octopus in my cast iron casserole for about 20 to 30 minutes with a little white wine and seasonings to obtain fork tenderness, then lightly broiled it to give it color. This may seem like a lot of octopus when you are buying it, but octopus shrinks tremendously as it cooks. I have certainly lost my fear of frozen octopus and will be cooking it frequently in the future so watch out for more recipes!
Deborah Mele 2011
Octopus Salad With Arugula & Tomatoes
Tender octopus is served on bitter greens with sweet cherry tomatoes.
- 1 Large or 2 Medium Frozen Octopus (About 1.5 Kg)
- 1 Stalk Celery, Roughly Chopped
- 1 Large Carrot, Roughly Chopped
- 1 Small Onion, Peeled & Roughly Chopped
- 2 Garlic Cloves, Peeled
- 1 Cup White Wine
- 1 Cup Water
- 2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
- 4 Cups Fresh Arugula, Washed & Dried
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper
- Aged Balsamic Vinegar
- Thaw the octopus and cut off the head and beak.
- Place the octopus in a heavy saucepan with the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, wine, and water.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Continue to cook until the octopus is fork tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.
- It will release a lot of liquid as it cooks, and turn the cooking liquid purple which is normal.
- Preheat your broiler or grill.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Remove the octopus from it’s cooking liquid and place on a baking sheet.
- Lightly brush the octopus with olive oil and then broil or grill until it begins to brown.
- Allow to cool, then cut into bite sized pieces and place in a a salad bowl.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and arugula.
- Toss, then drizzle in just enough olive oil to lightly coat the greens and season with salt and pepper.
- Toss gently once more and arrange in individual serving bowls.
- Drizzle just a little of the aged balsamic over the salad in each bowl and serve.