Aside from the usual end-of-summer struggles with posting, I haven’t had a whole lot going on the past few weeks. Trip to Vermont, staph infection from a bug bite, lots of work, but not a lot of interesting cooking. The vegetable CSA has certainly kept me on my toes trying to figure out a good pickling recipe and making variations of Conman’s mixed-vegetable smoky salsa, but none of that stuff makes a good blog post.
So, this past Sunday I had high hopes for inspiration and a drive to cook something interesting. Instead we walked to Brookline to hit Michael’s Deli for the best Ruben in Boston.
On the walk home I made the call that it was time to cook the three pound whole octopus I’ve had in the freezer for a couple months. After some quick research, it seemed relatively straightforward and would just require thawing it out for cooking. So lets get going.
I was nervous about rapid thawing but some quick research clarified that frozen octopus should be soaked to defrost which was what I was planning to do anyway. One more shot of this truly bizarre seafood block that looked like it was frozen in the base of a five gallon bucket.
The frozen block started to loosen up and looked more like a oceangoing creature after an hour or so soaking in water. Enough that I advised Kristi not to look in the sink for a little while.
I had a sense that this octopus was far larger than I expected but would also contract significantly once it was cooked. As the thawing wrapped up, I put a large pot of heavily salted water over high heat. With Kristi safely seated in the living room, I lifted the octopus out of the bowl by the head (mantle). Well, wowzers.
With the water boiling, I was ready to start cooking this thing.
Quick aside, the millions of internet experts on Octopus cooking were decidedly split on whether or not a cork was necessary in the boiling water to tenderize the octopus. Some sort of enzyme in cork helps break down the meat, or something like that. I was leaning towards including a cork until I realized we didn’t have any lying around and I was pretty sure that every bottle in the house was either screw cap or synthetic cork (cuz that’s how we roll). And with that, my decision was made, no cork in this batch.
As instructed online, I dipped the octopus a couple times to tighten it up a bit and then fully submerged it in the boiling water. Put some good slimy smudges on our stainless hood from not having enough clearance above the pot to lower this monster in cleanly. Almost immediately it fully contracted and started looking more like food. Or a prop from Aliens.
After putting the octopus in the pot I reduced the heat to a simmer, carefully placed a pair of tongs to keep it from floating out of the water, and left it to cook for an hour and a half. At which point I cut the heat and let it cool to a handleable temperature in the water.
When I eventually (read, post cocktail hour at a local restaurant’s patio with friends) pulled the octopus out of the liquid, the skin was falling off and the meat was fork tender.
The suction cups and skin were completely falling off and when I tasted them didn’t seem to have a lot of flavor or texture. So I completely removed everything that was loose, cut each tentacle off near the base, and piled all of the meat up on a plate.
Now for the three ways. My plan was to make a relatively traditional coctel de pulpo, a simple grilled tentacle with olive oil and sea salt, and a pesto octopus bruschetta. Wasn’t really creative at all, I’ve wanted to make the first two items for a while not and the last item is just due to how much pesto Kristi made last week.
I started with the coctel de pulpo since it needed the most time to rest together in the fridge. I’ve had coctel de pulpo a couple times on previous travels and it’s really just an awse term for ceviche; tomatoes, lime, garlic, seafood, etc. I liked the idea of this item because it didn’t call for any specific ingredients, just what sounds good and what’s in the fridge.
I sliced all of the octopus meat from the mantle, the ends of the arms, and the body in thin pieces. Half of that meat joined diced onion, cubed cucumber, garlic, hot sauce, and lots of chopped cilantro in a glass bowl.
I squeezed about a lime and a half over the ingredients and stirred in tomato juice until the texture looked about right. Then a lot of pepper and a little sea salt.
The pesto bruschetta was both a courtesy to Kristi, since I knew pesto + grilled bread would make even the oddest of ingredients edible for her, and a combination of ingredients that sounded dece to me. I stirred a few spoonfuls of pesto with the remainder of the sliced octopus meat and a little lemon juice before putting it on the stove top over low heat.
With the coctel resting in the fridge and the bruschetta topping heated up, I headed out to the grill the octopus arms and some sliced ciabatta from When Pigs Fly bakery in JP. That place is impossible to go into without buying something.
The octopus and bread both had a bit of olive oil on them and I waited until the grill was very hot to throw them on. My goal was to get a blackened char on the octopus and a nice toast on the bread, but the bread was far more cooperative than the octopus. For some reason instead of a char or even some solid grill marks, the outside just got a little crispy. Not what I was hoping for but, oh well.
Once off the grill, I drizzled some good olive oil and a couple twist of pink sea salt over the arms. Yeeeaaahhh, getting fancy with my ingredients on y’all! I got those seas salts all the way in Brookline! At the Trader Joes! For $1.99!
With everything fully cooked, I plated it all together. The coctel got some blue corn tortilla chips as a garnish/edible spoon, and the pesto octopus was piled high on the toasted bread.
I thought this was a very solid meal and Kristi seemed to enjoy it as well. The octopus arms had an interesting texture, tough and crispy on the outside but tender inside with the nice mild shellfish-like flavor that octopus has. The fruity olive oil and salt obviously complimented it well. The bruschetta was delicious, rich, easy-entry food. The octopus added that same shellfishy flavor and a nice tender texture and we had no problem eating our way through that entire pile of bread and pesto mixture.
The coctel de pulpo was my favorite part. I loved the spicy/citrusy kick from it and how light and refreshing it was after the other far more rich parts of the dish. Like a palate cleanser. With tortilla chips. Kristi wasn’t as into that part since it was her first taste of ceviche, but she agreed that the burn from the spicy citrus had an almost addictive quality.
That’s it, summer is almost over and football cooking season is starting. Get excited.