Love, love, love octopus (two-pound octopi pictured above; baby octopi pictured below).
Can’t exactly pinpoint what it is about octopus, but I absolutely love it. Octopus tastes like the sea — salty and briny. Reminds me of everything I love about the sea. The smell of the ocean. The sound of the ocean. The emerald-turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean. The calmness/tranquility engendered by the sound of waves crashing. An overall sense of peace and happiness I feel when I’m near the water.
When I see octopus on a menu, I almost always order it (can’t seem to get enough of it). Grilled would be my first choice (like they do so well in Greece), but am not all that picky when it comes to octopus. I enjoy it Galician-style (pulpo a la Gallega), boiled, thinly sliced, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and dusted with smoked Spanish paprika and coarse sea salt. When properly cooked, octopus is not chewy, but rather tender with just a bit of bite.
Despite my affinity for octopus, it’s not something I buy very often (sadly, because it’s not all that easy to find). Usually stick to squid (caught right here off the shores of Long Island, NY), as it’s more readily available. Where are all the octopus??
But when I am so fortunate as to come across octopus, it’s hard to pass it up. Saw some at a local fish market in Brooklyn a few weeks back and kept thinking about it. Knew it was just a matter of time until I went back, I couldn’t resist.
I’ve cooked many whole octopus in my time, but this is my first time with baby octopus. I simply braised them with tomato (passata), red wine, onion, and garlic for a good 35-40 minutes until tender and delicious.
Octopus gives off a fair amount of water, but as it cooks down and reduces, the flavors concentrate and you’re left with this thick, flavorful sauce that coats the octopus. This preparation also works well with squid; I’ve made a similar rendition with my other favorite cephalopod. Should you prepare this dish with squid, seek out uncleaned (aka ‘dirty’ squid). Uncleaned squid, which by the way are very easy to prep/clean, are considerably more flavorful than they’re already cleaned counterparts.
I served the braised octopus with fregola, Sardinian toasted pasta (you could always substitute couscous or spaghetti), finished with toasted, whole-grain bread crumbs (for some crunch) and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
The baby octopus are sold in two-pound frozen blocks ($6.99 per pound here)…
Braised Baby Octopus
2 lbs. baby octopus
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion, small dice
4 cloves garlic, smashed
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped, divided
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup tomato passata (such as this)
pinch chili flakes
Fregola, pasta, or couscous
Toasted breadcrumbs for serving
In a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion, smashed garlic, and half of the parsley. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Increase the heat to high, add the wine. Cook until the wine has evaporated. Lower the heat and add the octopus. Let the octopus simmer for 5-7 minutes.
Add the tomato passata and chili flakes, and cover the pan with a lid. Simmer over medium-low heat for 35-40 minutes or until the octopus is fork-tender. Taste and season with salt as needed. Sprinkle with the rest of the chopped parsley.
Serve with fregola (or pasta or couscous). Sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs if desired.