Many people shy away from cooking octopus, believing that it is too difficult to cook. The truth is slightly different. Octopus is relatively easy to cook; it’s tenderizing the octopus that poses the challenges. Perfectly-cooked octopus definitely must not be rubbery, but one also must not commit the cardinal sin of mushy octopus. Everyone seems to have a different method for tenderizing octopus. Some people literally beat octopus with a rock, or, failing that, with a meat tenderizer. My friend Patrick sets up a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water, and plunges the octopus in each water bath for about ten seconds, switching back and forth, about 30 times. I have heard that tenderizing the octopus sous vide works extremely well. I used to simmer octopus for about an hour in a pot of water to which some milk (the lactic acid works the trick) has been added. But I swear by my new method, which is time-consuming, but infallibly produces excellent results.
It is simple: put the whole octopus in a dry Dutch oven just slightly larger than the octopus itself. If you wish, you can throw in some fresh herbs, such as rosemary, oregano, or thyme, but you can also leave the octopus as is, depending on how you plan to cook it. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius). Cover the Dutch oven and slowly cook the octopus for three-and-a-half to five hours, depending on its size, or until it is completely tender when poked with a fork. The octopus releases a remarkable amount of liquid (expect it to decrease to about ¼ its raw size and weight), in which it then poaches. Your octopus is now recipe ready.
I am in the last weeks of my CSA and the farm has been harvesting A LOT of squash. So much that my neighbor with whom I share the CSA box implored me to keep the squash, thank you, and the beets too, if I wouldn’t mind – she was overwhelmed. This recipe features one of my favorites, delicata squash, a mild, sweet, squash with a skin tender enough to be eaten when cooked. Lightly caramelized, as it is in this recipe, delicata squash is almost sugary. It also acts as a flavor sponge, absorbing the juices and spices in which it is cooked, making it a perfect foil for the meaty, assertive octopus. This dish is like a tapa – the saffron and paprika are classic Spanish seasonings for octopus, and the chickpeas, also a common Spanish accompaniment to octopus, provide nuttiness and texture. If you can find them, use Turkish or Middle Eastern chickpeas, which are smaller and tastier than the variety grown in California. Although tenderizing the octopus requires some advance planning, the dish is quick to prepare and assemble once this is done. Alternatively, you could try this dish with baby octopus, which does not require tenderizing. Serve at the start of a meal or as an hors d’oeuvre, with bread to mop up the garlicky oil, accompanied perhaps by a nice crisp glass of dry rosé or cocktails.
1 one-kilo (2.2 pound) octopus (raw weight)
160 grams (5.6 ounces) cooked chickpeas
1 small delicata squash (about 400 grams, or one pound, before cleaning), sliced in half lengthwise, seeds and pulp removed, and sliced into ½ cm semi-circles
3-4 large cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 teaspoon sweet Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
120 ml (½ cup) olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper (red pepper flakes)
2 teaspoons salt, divided
Large pinch saffron, bloomed in 60 ml (¼ cup) boiling water
Juice of ½ large lemon
After tenderizing the octopus according to your preferred method, slice away the tentacles from the head and discard the head or reserve for another use. (My friend Simon recommends chopping it up for risotto or salads.) Use your fingers or a paring knife to gently scrape away any loose bits of membrane that cling to the surface of the tentacles (it’s fine to leave some behind), then slice into approximately 10 cm (3-4 inch) lengths. Set aside.
Heat half of the olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy bottom pan, add the paprika and cumin, and then the garlic, and cook just until the garlic starts to release an aroma. Stir in the delicata squash, one teaspoon of the salt, and the red pepper flakes, toss well to coat, and reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook, tossing occasionally, until the squash is tender and lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the squash from the pan, leaving the liquid behind. Increase heat to high and add the remaining olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the octopus tentacles and sauté quickly, until they are seared. Stir in the chickpeas, the remaining salt, and the saffron in its water, reduce heat, and cook, shaking the pan, for about another 5-7 minutes, or until the chickpeas have begun to color.
Return the delicata squash to the pan and cook just until heated through. Turn off the heat and stir in all but about ½ tablespoon of the parsley and the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Makes 6-8 appetizer-sized portions.