Just because it’s fall in the Northeast, doesn’t mean the weather has turned cold everywhere else. Some of you are lucky enough to have year round lovely temps or are just hitting the spring. And even when it’s cold, I still like to pretend it’s summer – plus I’m headed to Tanzania tomorrow where it won’t be cold except for at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. So in anticipation of that, a healthy recipe is required. And octopus — low in fat and high in flavor — fits the bill. It also happens to be very inexpensive and easy to prepare, once you know the secret….
The trick to making octopus tender? Soak it in milk, preferably overnight. It’s so much easier than boiling it with herbs for an hour and smelling up the house. Try to find baby octopi if you can. Otherwise, with larger tentacles, you’ll need to cook it longer and hope it doesn’t end up too chewy.
Once you’ve tenderized it, you can decide on the preparation. Taking a riff from Marea, I’ve stuffed the heads with bone marrow and separated them from the tentacles, but that’s definitely a more complicated and time-consuming process, which you should try if you are up for it. But for most, try grilling or sauteing the octopus Mediterranean style with sausage, tomatoes, olives and feta. You can then serve it with grilled polenta, a simple pasta with garlic and oil or some buttered potatoes and arugula for a complete meal.
Mediterranean Style Octopus
1/2 lb of octopus
1 cup of milk (preferably whole milk, but any type will work)
2 links of hot sausage or chorizo, casings removed
1/3 cup of olives, coarsely chopped
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup of onion or leeks
1/4 cup of feta, crumbled
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbsp of olive or lemon oil
1/2 a small hot pepper, finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
Soak octopus in milk for at least an hour (or overnight if you have time). Rinse and drain. You can leave octopus whole if small, or cut into fourths or pieces, depending on your preference. Toss the octopus in the oil to coat (add a squeeze of lemon or two). Set aside.
In a large saute pan, cast iron skillet or grill pan, over medium-low heat, add sausage. Break the sausage up with a wooden spoon or spatula. When well-browned (about 5 minutes), add the leeks or onions, tomatoes, olives and hot pepper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute for about 3 minutes. Then add the octopus to the sausage mixture and cook for about another 5 minutes or until tentacles have fully curled.
If you want to grill the octopus separately, so it gets a nice char, heat outdoor grill or grill pan to medium heat. (I like to place a piece of tin foil to keep clean up easy and avoid the octopus sticking to the grill.)
Grill the octopus either alone or with the veggies, stirring frequently being careful not to burn the veggies. Grill for about 7 minutes and then add to the sausage.
Stir in feta cheese. Sprinkle with parsley and a few squeezes of lemon. Serve with additional lemon slices for presentation.
To drink: a spiked lemonade with some gin or vodka or a Gavi, Gruner Veltliner or a Pinot Grigio would be nice.