I have been debating a tangle with this ancient denizen of the deep for over a year now. Part of what I love so much about Spanish cuisine is its abundance of fruits from the sea with flavors teased out by the rich bounty of the soil. However, an octopus salad has to be built thoughtfully and with ample patience. The key to cooking octopus is consistency. Overcook it and you may as well be chewing gum. Cook it just right and you will enjoy the tender, juicy and flavorful gift of a slowly simmered, wine-infused octopus. I found myself in an experimental mood the other night when I discovered some fresh lentils and black-eyed peas that had never been dried and I decided that grilled octopus would be their perfect companion. With this Mark Bittman article as a guide and after consulting my friend from Japan who makes an amazing octopus appetizer, I dug right in.
Cooking the octopus
- 1 pound of baby octopus, cleaned, heads on or a large 1 lb octopus
- 3 cups water
- 3 cups red wine
- 1 large stalk celery, chopped (about ½ cup)
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 small sprig rosemary
- 1 bayleaf
- 8 peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Marinade
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- juice of ½ large lemon
- 1 heaping teaspoon fresh cilantro, minced
- 1 large clove garlic
- salt & pepper
For the Salad
- 1/4 cup shaved fennel
- 1/2 cup fresh red and green lentils, black eyed peas, green peas or chickpeas
- 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted
- 2 oz. dry chorizo, chopped
- 1 green pepper chopped, grilled
- 1 handful of chilantro, chopped
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Cooking the Octopi
Add the vegetables to the water and wine in a small stockpot. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and add your octopi/octopus. Make sure there is just enough liquid to cover the octopus. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Test for “doneness” first on the smallest of your octopi, picking one up with tongs and piercing the center with a skewer or meat thermometer. Mark’s article said that you want to feel the meat yield like a cooked potato, offering little resistance. That’s how you know when it’s done. Remove the smallest octopi first, testing larger octopi before removing them. You may refrigerate them overnight or proceed to marinate.
Adding the marinade
Remove the heads of the octopi/octopus. Combine the marinade ingredients. Put the octopi and marinade together in a zip-top bag or covered dish. Push the air from the bag before sealing if you use a bag. Marinate for a couple of hours, turning the combo frequently to ensure contact with the marinade.
Grill the Octopi
Preheat a grill to high heat. Remove the octopi from the marinade. Quickly grill each side of the octopi over very high heat. You are not cooking them. Rather, you just searing them to add grill marks and flavor to them. No more than 30-seconds to a minute each side on a raging hot grill. Cut up the octopus into manageable bites.
Combine all of the raw peas and beans in a serving dish and lay the octopus right on top of the salad. Toss the octopus with the chickpeas, beans, chorizo and herbs. Drizzle the lemon and oil over the salad and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.