I love seafood of all types, and apart from a few odd varieties such as sea snails, I could eat seafood every day and never tire of it. Here in Italy, even here in landlocked Umbria, these days it is pretty easy to find fresh octopus at the market or at the seafood counter in large grocery stores. Octopus has a meaty texture, and when prepared properly, it can be delicious. Unfortunately, octopus often gets a bad reputation for being bubble gum chewy, but it doesn’t have to be. You can easily prepare tender, delicious octopus very easily in your own kitchen!
Through the years, I have tried just about every way to cook an octopus you can imagine. Some say add wine corks to the water while others say to beat the octopus with a meat mallet to tenderize it. Since you see fishermen beating octopuses against rocks to tenderize them, the meat mallet makes sense. I even tried sealing my octopus in a ziplock bag and running it through the spin cycle of my washing machine once, all in search making tender octopus! A couple of years ago, we bought a good-sized octopus at the fish market in Venice to take back to Umbria with us and asked the fishmonger how best to cook it. He told us to simply put it in a pot with an inch or two of water, cover, and cook until knife tender. He then said the trick to keeping it tender was to let the octopus cool in the pot with the cooking water, covered until it cools to room temperature. Once fully cooked, you can cut the octopus and eat it as is, or grill it or pass it under the broiler after brushing it with olive oil to brown it. From that point on, this has been my preferred method of preparing octopus, and it is always very tender. The one thing to note when buying octopus is to remember that they will shrink to almost half their size when cooked, so always buy one a little larger than you think you will need.
On a recent trip to Puglia, my husband decided that our first stop had to be at a Trabucco for lunch. A Trabucco is an ancient wooden fishing structure that uses huge nets to fish. These amazing structures can be seen along the coast of Abruzzo and Puglia, although only a handful still actually function. Many trabucco have been turned into restaurants that serve the very freshest seafood. I chose Trabucco di Mimi because it had great reviews for the food, so that is where we made reservations for lunch. We enjoyed several delicious seafood appetizers that day, but the most memorable for me was the fried octopus. As many times as I have cooked octopus, I have never tried frying it, and I loved the crispy outer texture and tender meaty inside. As soon as I returned home to Umbria, I went in search of a good-sized octopus to fry. Before frying, the octopus has to be cooked or braised in the usual manner to tenderize it, then it is dried, cut into pieces, lightly dredged in flour and fried. I made fried octopus a few weeks ago, and it was perfect. Crispy and brown on the outside and the meaty interior was even more tender than usual. I can’t wait to make this dish for my family next time we have a seafood meal together! I served my fried octopus on a pillow of pureed lemony chickpeas and topped it with a sprinkling of gremolata, and we enjoyed each and every bite.
Deborah Mele 2019
- 1 Medium Large Octopus, Cleaned
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
- 1/2 Cup All-purpose Flour
- 3 Tablespoons Corn Starch
- Salt & Pepper
- Vegetable Oil For Frying
Gremolata To Serve:
- 1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley Leaves
- Zest from 1 Lemon
- 2 Garlic Cloves
Chickpea Puree: (Optional)
- 1 Can Chickpeas
- Juice From 1 Lemon
- Salt & Pepper
- 3-4 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper To Taste
- Place the octopus in a heavy bottom stock pot and add the water and bay leaves.
- Add about a cup of water and bring to a boil.
- Cover, and reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the octopus is fork tender, about 45 minutes.
- While the octopus is braising, chop together the gremolata ingredients, then place in a small bowl.
- Drain and rinse canned chickpeas and place in a blender or food processor with the lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Pulse until smooth.
- Remove the octopus in the pot from the heat and allow to cool to room temperaturein the covered pot.
- Take the octopus from the water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Cut the tentacles off and cut into 2-inch pieces.
- Cut the head into rings like you would calamari.
- In a plastic bag, mix together the flour and cornstarch and then season with salt and pepper.
- Heat an inch or two of oil in a deep frying pan to 375 degrees F.
- Line a paper plate with paper towels.
- Place a few pieces of octopus at a time in the bag and shake to lightly coat with the flour mixture.
- Once the oil is hot, fry a few pieces of octopus at a time until golden brown, this will take just a minute or two.
- Use a slotted spoon to move the fried octopus pieces to the paper covered plate to drain and finish frying the rest of the octopus in the same manner.
- Serve the octopus while still warm on a bed of the chickpea puree with the sprinkled gremolata on top.