Octopus is finally available again in seafood stores in Southern California. In Italy, being able to buy freshly fished octopus is nearly a birthright. Along the entire coast of the southern portion of the Italian peninsula—from Naples on the Mediterranean Sea to Marche on the Adriatic—and all the way around Sicily, the seas are full of octopus! Each region has specific preparations that they call their own, and one common dish shared by most regions, with regional variations, is the octopus salad. This recipe is a nod to the ubiquitous octopus, and to traditional potato salad, with a few Italian twists and turns.
It’s simple to cook octopus, but a critical first step is to put it into some type of liquid with herbs and simmer it for about an hour; then to let it cool. Once cooled, an octopus can be cut into pieces and served in a variety of ways—like this salad—or can be grilled, sautéed, or added to a tomato-based sauce.
Of late, restaurants have been pan-frying or grilling octopus tentacles to crisp up the pliable flesh of just-cooked octopus; this gives them a nice texture and bit of a crunch.
This recipe serves 4 as a first-course.
Ingredients and Directions:
• 1 small, fresh, uncooked octopus—about 1 lb
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1 celery stick, diced
• ½ onion or 1 leek, diced or sliced
• 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed, plus 1 additional clove, minced
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 spring of fresh thyme
• 1 bottle Southern Italian red wine
• 1 lb multi-colored new potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
• 1 bunch kale
• 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
• A splash of white wine
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Juice of ½-1 lemon
1. In a small pot (just big enough to hold the octopus) over medium heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil; once the olive oil is heated, add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and stir. Cover with a lid and stir occasionally. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the octopus to the pot and toss to coat with the vegetables. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, till the octopus begins to release its water.
3. Add the full bottle of red wine, bay leaves, and thyme. Add enough water to cover the octopus (if needed).
4. Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then reduce to a high simmer. Cook for 1 hour, rotating the octopus in the pot occasionally with tongs or a wooden spoon.
5. Remove pot from heat and let the octopus cool in its own liquid.
6. Meanwhile in a separate pot, add the potatoes and cover with water. Stir in a good pinch of salt and cover. Heat over high heat until just boiling, then reduce to a high simmer. Cook until the potatoes are firm and cooked through. Drain.
7. Trim the kale leaves from the thick stems and slice into ribbons.
8. Prepare a medium mixing bowl to toss the salad.
9. Remove the octopus from the liquid and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into bite-sized pieces, leaving the curly end of each leg intact for presentation. Cut the head into bite-sized pieces, removing any unappetizing parts.
10. In a medium frying pan, add 1 tbsp olive oil and the minced garlic and gently sauté over low heat. Add the octopus pieces and sauté and toss until a little crispy all over. (You may get a little oil spitting from the water left on the octopus, and you may have to raise the heat to medium.) When done and crispy, remove to the mixing bowl.
11. Add the sliced kale to the frying pan with a pinch of salt. Add a splash of water or white wine and cover the frying pan to braise. When the liquid level is reduced to almost nothing, removed the lid and begin to sauté the kale until soft and tender. Season with salt and pepper.
12. Add the cooked potatoes and toss until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to the bowl holding the octopus.
13. Toss with a wooden spoon and add the lemon juice to coat as needed.
14. Serve warm.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.