This is one of those dishes whose end product is often used in ANOTHER dish. You can eat this as it is after it is grilled or chill it and use it in a salad, soup or fried rice. It is not an overly flavorful dish which is a good thing. Most people who have never tried octopus think it is a very fishy tasting dish. Nothing could be further from the truth. Octopus has its own flavor which is delicate and rich.
I like to get my octopus fresh at a local farmers market. For this recipe I bought two octopi under 2 lbs in weight each. Mine were already cleaned (beaks and guts removed) such that everything I was given was edible. The meat is very limp and pliable raw. But even in sushi preparations octopus is never served raw. So before we can grill it, the octopus must be simmered for over an hour. I have about 3 lbs of octopus here so I will simmer mine for about 3 hours covered on low heat.
You want to pour in enough water to completely cover the octopus. Then add 1 cup red wine vinegar, your herbs, salt and pepper. It looks rather flat here because it is still raw.
Ok, so here I have added some thyme sprigs, bay leaves, a little culantro, garlic, sage and parsley. I also added a teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons of salt.
Here I have also added one lemon half which I squeezed into the water and will stew with the meat and herbs. Now that the water is hot, the octopus balls up and the flesh starts to get firm. At this point the meat is completely inedible because it’s like rubber. It is at this point that I cover it and lower the heat and cook oil the meat is tender. After 90 minutes I flip the octopi over so that the bottoms cook some as well. The herbs will lend some flavor but even if you overdo it with one or more herbs it won’t overpower the flavor of the octopus. Trust me.
Have a large bowl or bucket with ice water (mostly ice) in sufficient quantity to submerge the octopi in. When you remove them from the simmering herb water and vinegar, plunge them into the ice bath and stir. Move them around preiodically in the ice bath but leave them in there for 20 minutes. The action of the vinegar in the simmer and the sudden freezing water will make the flesh so tender you can literally pinch the tentacles off with your fingers. In the above pictire, the octopi are cooked, shocked and drained. Discard the water and cooked herbs as there isn’t really anything you can use that for. That broth will be too bitter to be palatable.
And here I have the cooked octopus brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt. Very exotic looking indeed! At this point I’ll carve the meat up into sections ending in tentacles. You do not want pieces too thick and if they are, trim them even if you have sections without tentacles attached. You want 1″ or less thickness for the flesh here.
I sprinkled some more coarse kosher salt on the oiled tentacles before putting them on the fire. The charcoal sear on this gives it a delicious flavor. I dare confess after the meat comes off the grill, it will be at it’s absolute peak flavor. If you store it to use it in something else it will be very tasty but it will slightly less flavorful than it was when it first came off the fire. There is no way around this but it is still wonderful in a soup or salad, cut up in fried rice or even minced as a cold topping for canapé hors’deuvres. I will grill it here for 12-15 minutes, turning every couple of minutes to get a good flame grilled flavor on all sides.
And the first batch is served. You’ll note the paper plate in the background where I sliced off a piece to taste it first. Wonderful mediterranean flavor! As the chef you have to do this 😉 I like this chilled in a salad as well with chopped red onions and radish slices along with a crisp romaine lettuce and a light Greek dressing (I’ll include a little fish sauce in the dressing for an umami punch). If you do use it in a salad, cut the meat up further into small bite sized pieces.
Here is the recipe.
Mediterranean Grilled Octopus (serves 4-6)
- 2 octopus cleaned and eviscerated (under 2 lbs each)
- Enough water to cover the octopus in a stock pot.
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 6 garlic cloves cut in half
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 culantro leaves shredded
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped parsley
- 6 sage leaves scored
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 lemon cut in half with one half cut into wedges for serving.
- 1 scallion (save for garnish at the end – do not add to the pot).
- 1 bowl or bucket of ice water sufficient to submerge both octopi in after cooking.
- Place the octopus in a stock pot that has a lid.
- Cover the octopus with water with 2-3″ water above the octopus
- Add all herbs, garlic, salt, pepper and red wine vinegar
- Squeeze the lemon juice into the water and drop the lemon half into the pot as well.
- Heat to boiling.
- Cover and lower the heat to barely a simmer.
- Cook for 3 hours or more.
- Test the meat with a sharp knife for doneness. The meat should not be very rubbery.
- Drain the octopus and plunge into the ice bath.
- Stir the octopi occasionally in the ice bath.
- After 20 minutes in the ice, drain and cut the octopus into slices not more than 1″ thick. But keep tentacles intact.
- Brush the octopus generously with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt.
- Grill over high heat for 12-15 minutes, turning frequently until well seared on all sides.
- Serve with lemon wedges and top with chopped scallions.