If someone had told me when I was younger that octopus would become one of my favorite types of seafood, I would have thought that they were crazy. Over the years however, I have learned to love octopus, and I order it often when we are dining out at a seafood restaurant and cook it myself at home as well. I am now a big fan of octopus, and I’ve been thrilled to notice that the fresh seafood counter at our local grocery store here in Umbria has begun to sell octopus fairly regularly this year. A few weeks back I was craving octopus, so I headed off to the store hoping I’d find it there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available that day, so I went home empty handed, but I continued to crave it for the next few weeks until we took our annual trip to Venice. I enjoyed octopus a few times during our trip, and I also made a point to buy some fresh octopus at the Venice seafood market to bring back to Umbria with us. The day we returned home, I made this tasty octopus salad for dinner.
I prefer to cook with fresh seafood, but octopus is one item I’ll make an exception for, and I will buy it frozen. I find that the freezing and thawing process actually tenderizes the meat, releasing much of its liquid. I still boil it, but the cooking period can be significantly reduced. It’s worth noting that octopus loses a lot of volume during this process, so its best to buy more than you think you’ll need; when cooked, it can be reduced to as much as half its original size.
Octopus must also be cleaned, so you may want to ask your fish monger to do it if you’re uncomfortable doing so yourself. Hold the head under running water to simply remove and discard the ink sac, stomach, and eyes. Then use a sharp knife to cut out the beak, which is found at the bottom of the head. If you buy the octopus frozen, it has already been cleaned. Photo at left is fresh octopus at the Venice market.
There are many recipes for boiling and braising octopus, but I usually put it in a pot and cover it with water and a cup of white wine. I add some peppercorns, lemon, a wine cork, and two cloves of garlic, and then let the mixture slowly simmer. You can tell when the octopus is tender by piercing it with a sharp knife: if tender, the knife should go in very easily. Cooking times vary depending on the size of the octopus and whether if was frozen, but it usually needs 45 to 90 minutes to become sufficiently tender. The addition of the wine cork is a bit controversial—advocates, like Mario Batali, claim it contains and enzyme that helps tenderize the octopus while it cooks. Considering how easy it is to add, I often toss it in, even though I’m still undecided as to whether it actually makes a difference.
Deborah Mele 2014
Octopus Salad With Potatoes, Tomatoes, Olives, & Capers
- 1 (3 Pound) Octopus
- 1 Lemon
- 1 Cup White Wine
- 1 Tablespoon Peppercorns
- 2 Cloves Garlic, Peeled
- 2 Large Potatoes, Peeled & Cut Into 1 1/2 Inch Cubes
- 1 1/2 Cups Halved Cherry Tomatoes
- 1/4 Cup Pitted Kalamata Olives, Halved
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Capers
- 1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley Leaves
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- 1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper
- Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes
- In a large pot, place the octopus along with the wine, peppercorns, 1 lemon cut in half, cork, and garlic.
- Cover with water by 1 inch and bring to a boil over medium high heat.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook the octopus until it is tender when pierced with a sharp knife. (Anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.)
- Drain, and allow the octopus to come to room temperature.
- While the octopus is cooking, bring a pot of salted water to a boil over medium heat, and cook the potatoes until fork tender.
- Drain, and allow to come to room temperature.
- Cut the octopus into 1 1/2-inch pieces and place in a bowl along with the cooled potatoes, tomatoes, olives, capers, and parsley.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad.
- Gently toss to mix, then serve on a platter.