I’m just going to dive right in. This recipe is not for the feint of heart. This post is for octopus lovers and non-squeamish lovers of those octopus lovers.
Now that that’s settled, let’s get to it.
Whenever I see octopus on a menu, I order it. I always have high hopes and expectations because I like to assume that if you choose to put octopus your menu you also know how to prepare it correctly. However, this is not always the case and got me thinking that some people might not know how great octopus can actually be. When prepared correctly, octopus is creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside. It shouldn’t be chewy and you certainly shouldn’t need a steak knife.
When asking some of my friends and family if they would ever buy octopus at a store and prepare it at home ten out of ten said absolutely not. Not only are they completely intimidated by the look of raw octopus, they would have absolutely no idea of how to go about cooking it.
If you have never seen a whole, raw octopus, you might be surprised to find that it is sold (usually) with the head still attached, and that this head has eyes! They are also very slimy and seem to have life in them even after they are dead. They don’t, however the weight of the tentacles often cause the legs to roll a bit if its sitting on a cutting board.
Take a deep breath. Dealing with this slimy alien from the sea is part of what makes eating it that much more rewarding. There are a lot of grocery stores that have started carrying octopus in their fish section. Citerella, Whole Foods & Fairway usually have them. Some recipes call for frozen octopus, but I don’t really see the point in cooking octopus unless you can get it fresh. If you’re still skeptical, my advice for you is try it. Even if you hate the process, I promise this will be the most perfectly cooked octopus you have ever eaten.
Seared Octopus with Paprika Aioli with Fingerling Potatoes & Arugula Salad
Serving Size: 2
Total Time: 2 hours
Active Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Intermediate – this recipe has a lot of moving parts, but if you take a deep breath and conquer them one by one, you’ll see that each step is really very simple
- a large pot, with a well fitted lid
- a medium pot
- a sauté pan
- a whisk
- a large bowl
- a meat tenderizer
- 1 whole octopus (1.5-2lbs)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 1 tsp pink peppercorns
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 dried bay leaves
- one orange, zested, and separated into two portions
- 1 tbs olive oil
For Paprika Aioli*
- ¼ cup olive oil
- juice of half a lemon (save the other half for plating)
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
For the Potatoes & Salad
- 8 fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
- 10 castelvetrano olives (any large, firm olives will do) cut away from the pit and sliced
- 1 bunch parsley, rinsed, dried and picked so only leaves are used
- 1 red pepper*
- 1 tsp olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 bunch baby arugula
- one shallot, sliced
Place the octopus on a cutting board so you can see all of the legs and cover it with saran wrap. With the flat side of the meat tenderizer, beat the octopus legs gently, but with force. This is a slight oxymoron, but you want to hit the octopus with enough force that you are making an impact, but gently enough that you don’t break the skin or beat off any of the tentacles. You don’t need to go crazy, just a few hits on each leg. This helps tenderize the meat in the legs and will ensure that it isn’t chewy.
Rinse the octopus under cold water. Place the octopus into the large pot with cold water so it’s covered with at least 3” of water. Add the salt, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves and half of the orange zest. Bring to a boil and let boil for five minutes. Reduce heat and bring down to a simmer. Cover and simmer for one hour.
While the octopus is cooking, prepare the rest of the dish. In your medium mixing bowl, add the egg yolk, lemon juice, ¼ tsp salt and smoked paprika and whisk until combined. Then, while whisking constantly, pour the olive oil into the mixture in a very slow and steady stream. Once all of the olive oil is combined you should have a thick, shiny aioli. If the olive oil is still separated from the aioli base you have two options. You can either add to a new egg yolk in the same manor you added the olive oil to begin with or you can whisk the mixture very well right before you plan on serving it. *If you don’t want to make your own aioli, but still want the smoked paprika element you can add 2 tsp smoked paprika to 3 tbs of store bought mayonnaise. It won’t taste quite as good, but it will get the job done. Cover the aioli and refrigerate until you’re ready to plate your dish.
To roast the red pepper, again, we have a few options. If you have a gas stove and a well-vented kitchen (a window near by that can open or a vent that actually vents out of your home) then the best method of roasting is on the stovetop. To do this, place your whole pepper directly onto the burner, with the burner on high. With tongs, rotate the pepper until each side has an even black char. Once the entire pepper is charred, place it in a medium bowl and cover the bowl with saran wrap. Let this sit for a few minutes. Then, remove the saran wrap and with paper towels, gently wipe away the char from the pepper. This process removes the skin and leaves you with a tender, roasted pepper. Once all of the skin is gone, remove the seeds and slice into thin strips.
If have an electric burner or a less ventilated kitchen you can roast the pepper in the oven. Preheat your oven to 375°. Remove the top of the pepper and the seeds and slice the pepper into ½” strips. Toss the pepper strips in 1 tsp of olive oil and place on a baking sheet in one layer. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until tender.
With tongs, lift the octopus out of the water and place in a strainer. Once it’s cool enough to handle, remove the head. You should be able to see a natural line where each leg joins where the head used to be. With a sharp knife, cut the legs apart. Marinate the octopus legs in 1 tbs olive oil, a pinch of salt and the rest of the orange zest for 15-20 minutes.
In a small sauté pan, heat 2 tsp olive oil over medium high heat. Add the shallots, moving them around with a wooden spoon until they have all separated. Cook until they are crisp and dark brown, but not burned – about 5 minutes. Set aside in a bowl and let cool.
Place the fingerling potatoes in the medium pot and cover with cold water. Salt well. Bring the potatoes to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Test the doneness of the potatoes with a fork, they should pierce easily. Drain the potatoes and let them cool.
Heat a dry sauté pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is very hot, add the octopus legs. If you pan isn’t hot enough the octopus will not char and will stick to the pan. You’ve come this far do not over cook your octopus in the pan. The octopus is already cooked, so it doesn’t need to be in the pan for very long. If you pan is very hot, the octopus should char and naturally release from the pan. Using your tons, flip the legs onto the other side so that both sides are charred and brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Once cooked, let them rest on a paper towel.
To plate your dish, put a big dollop of the paprika aioli on the side of the plate and push it forward with the back of a spoon to spread it out. Plate the octopus on top of the aioli. Toss the arugula with 1 tsp of olive oil the pepper strips and the olives and place the salad next to the octopus. Garnish the salad with the parsley leaves, crispy shallots and potatoes. Season with a bit of salt & pepper and a squeeze of lemon.
Enjoy – you deserve it!