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Warm Octopus Salad

 Warm Galician octopus polpo salad

 The more I cook, the more I realise I want to cook. Each meal becomes a fabulous opportunity to do something I want to and something to be savoured. We all have our trusty standbys and favoured dishes, but when the chance to do something completely new comes along it thrills me. So when Liz* from Brixtonia suggested getting together and cooking fresh octopus, I was all over the idea. I’ve never met seafood I don’t love and it seemed like a perfect challenge.

I have to admit that I didn’t have a clue what to do with our eight legged friend so luckily Liz has access to a stack of cookbooks with some good ideas and emailed me several, mainly from Rick Stein. We pondered over two and couldn’t quite decide on which so thought we’d combine them both. But first up was getting our items. We needed a trip to the market.

Saturday morning saw us up relatively bright and early and in the queue at Dagon’s for our octopus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again many times, Dagon’s is the jewel in Brixton Market’s crown. They have a vast choice, good quality, are excellent value and have friendly and helpful staff. I try to go at least once a week and I must admit I get a real kick out of being recognised by the staff there now. It’s like visiting the 50s high street but with more women’s lib and better banter.

They talked us through buying the octopus and we went for one whole cleaned octopus. I forgot to weigh it when I got home but it cost us a very reasonable £4 for the whole thing. We also picked up some samphire, a kipper fillet for me and a mackerel for Liz and the whole lot came to an even eight quid. Can’t say fairer than that. We got everything we needed and a box of Alphonso mangoes we just wanted and then got down to the cooking.

Galician Octopus Salad (From Rick Stein’s Spain)

  • 1 clean octopus
  • 400g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp paprika (of your choice)
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper if not using hot paprika.
  • 1 tbsp salt

This is so simple it’s untrue. Take your cleaned octopus and put in a pan just covered with water and the tablespoon of salt and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. That’s it. That’s how you cook an octopus. We didn’t tenderise it in anyway, either by freezing and thawing or bashing it against the rocks or anything else. We shoved it in a pot of water, left it well alone and went and had a glass of wine and a good gossip.

Octopus

After an hour, we came back and lifted the octopus out of the cooking water and left it to cool on a plate. It had turned the beautiful mauve we both associated with Spanish octopus dishes and the tentacles had curled in beautifully. We added the potatoes into the remaining cooking water and brought them to the boil until tender but still al dente. Then heat the olive oil, add the paprika and cayenne and fry the potatoes until golden and crispy.

Cooked octopus ready to slice

While they are sauteeing nicely, cut the octopus into inch or so chunks, using both the tentacles and the head and body. Take the potatoes off the heat and add the octopus in for a few seconds just to warm it through and coat it with the paprika. Dish up with some chopped parsley (our concession to the other recipe we had planned as well) along with some vegetables if you so fancy (we did steamed samphire and roasted aubergine and tomatoes) and enjoy!

The octopus was firm but very tender without a hint of rubberiness. It was slightly sweet and very flavoursome, especially alongside the potatoes. Slightly salty, intensely umami and crispy round the edges, these were the best fried potatoes I’ve ever had. Simple and packed with flavour, the whole meal was fantastic. We feasted well, but with a few more spuds, the one octopus would easily serve 3 -4 making it good value as well as impressive and delicious. Until now, all my cephalopod ardour was reserved for squid, but there’s another many legged love in my life now I’ve discovered octopus…

 

*Thanks to Liz for her cooking skills, being an excellent guest and taking that fantastic sea creature shot!

Nose to Tail at St John…

The restaurant fairy paid me a visit last night and took me to St John, home of nose to tail eating, and the place I have most wanted to eat at in London for years. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a little bit wary of the knobbly bobbly wobbly bits of the beast as they require more cooking skill than I feel I have, so I have always wanted the chance to try the weird and wonderful, but well cooked. And I wasn’t disappointed!
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I’m a sucker for spicy octopus tentacles…

Spicy Portuguese-style octopus stew

I bought a big bag of frozen octopus for a few quid on a whim before Christmas from an Asian supermarket: every now and then I’ve idly wondered how I’d be best tackling them in the kitchen. I’ve often thought some kind of Iberian treatment would be good – garlic, olive oil, onions and tomatoes would be natural bedfellows – and after my recent visit with Miss South to Estrela, where the polvo was divine, I was tempted by tentacles.

A cursory scout on the web for Portuguese octopus recipes didn’t provide anything definitive, but then I often spend a bit of time online just to get inspiration from flavours and pairings of ingredients. I had a range of directions to follow, a range of references, and a healthily stocked kitchen, so I decided to freestyle it a bit. The aim was to end up with a warming and spicy octopus stew. I think I nailed it…

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Portuguese Tapas…or how I learned to love liver.

Mister North was in London for the evening and it would have been sacrilegious to miss the opportunity to eat out together. We considered several cuisines before deciding on Portuguese. The South Lambeth Road is one of the borough’s best kept culinary secrets with its large selection of Portuguese cafes and bars, perfect for anything from a full meal to a custard tart and a coffee.

After some deliberation we decided to eat at Bar Estrela which is one of the largest and best known bars in this bit of Little Lisbon. We’ve both eaten there before and were keen to see if was as good as we remembered. Read more