OCTOPUS AND CHIMICHURRI
Who’s afraid of octopus?
If you’d told little Steven that octopus would be among his most favorite things when he was all grow-ed up, he probably would have laughed and then hid from you. But here we are. Octopus is just magnificent, especially when grilled or pan seared in a cast iron skillet, so it gets a nice, crispy exterior with a melty, tender interior.
Don’t stop reading yet! Maybe I can address some of your concerns with these octopus FAQs:
Isn’t it super rubbery?
Not at all! At least, not if it’s cooked, and cooked correctly (see this recipe!). In that case, octopus can be the most tender, lovely thing, far more tender than most land-based meats!
Isn’t it super fishy?
Cooked octopus, as long as it’s fresh, is actually one of the least fishy seafood items you can eat. It has a generally neutral flavor profile that more resembles meat than fish, and is known for taking on the character of the things it’s served with. It's probably the best seafood to eat for people who don't like seafood!
Isn't it hard and gross to make?
It's not nearly as difficult as you might think. It's actually pretty idiot-proof, and is one of the easiest seafood items to perfect. If you're squeamish, it can definitely be a liiiiiittle jarring, but there are ways to mitigate some of that, and it's SO worth it!
If you're still reading, here are the details!
Serves 2 to 4 people, depending on the size of the octopus
Prep time: less than ten minutes; cook time: 2 hours
At least 4 garlic cloves
Bunch of fresh parsley
Bunch of fresh mint
Bunch of fresh oregano
Excellent extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Tools for cooking:
Large stock pot
Grill or cast iron skillet (a regular skillet will do if you don't have either)
NOTES ON PURCHASING AND PREPPING THE OCTOPUS
Many good supermarkets with excellent seafood departments have whole octopus and/or tentacles. While you will only be eating the tentacles, I strongly suggest, even though this seems much more gross/difficult, that you purchase the whole octopus. This ensures that when you boil the cephalopod, it cooks evenly, and it helps the tentacles retain moisture. Now, you do need to make sure with your fish monger that your octopus has had its head cleaned out; even I am not strong enough for that task. Many claim that an octopus must be fresh and not frozen, but I have been using fresh-frozen octopus and I think it's just as good. If you can't find octopus at your local market, consider an online service like Fulton Fish Market, which has plenty of incredible seafood for delivery anywhere in the country.
When you get the octopus (or the tentacles), fill a large stock pot with water, a couple of garlic cloves (lightly bruise/crush them after they are peeled by pushing them against a hard surface with the heel of your hand) a bay leaf, and some salt and pepper.
Thoroughly wash a kitchen surface or a VERY large cutting board. Grab the cephalopod by the head and splay it out on the counter so that all the tentacles are flat against the surface. Now, you're going to give your octopus a massage. No, I am not kidding. Go the length of the tentacles with a "karate chop" motion with the side of your hand a couple of times, tenderizing each tentacle. This is a weird step, but it makes a HUGE difference. Make sure you wash the surface again after
Once the water in the stock pot is boiling, grab the head of the octopus to lift it from the counter and submerge it tentacles-first into the boiling water. Cover and reduce heat a bit and allow the octopus to cook for about 60 minutes; you'll need to check it to make sure the tentacles are not floating above the water. If this happens, try propping it down with a long utensil wedged between the octopus and the pot lit. It's tricky to figure out. After 60 minutes, it is sometimes advisable to flip the octopus upside-down for more even cooking, especially if the tentacles have been floating above the water. The total cooking time will vary depending on the size of the octopus, but for absolutely tender tentacles, I recommend about 75 to 90 minutes. You will know the octopus is done when you can poke a fork into the thickest part of a tentacle with little to no resistance.
You'll need to remove the octopus carefully and let it cool just a bit, and cut the tentacles from the head using a sharp knife. You'll probably have to cut some skin between the tentacles away as well to make sure you get as much tentacle as possible with each cut. Dispose of the head, and take a strong paper towel and run it along the length of each tentacle to remove excess skin. The skin is not bad, but too much can inhibit proper browning of the tentacles on the grill or in the skillet.
While the octopus is boiling, take a minute or two to make the chimichurri.
Chimichurri is by no means an exact science. My general rule is to include an approximate ratio of 3:2:1 (parsley to oregano to mint). You must use fresh, and not dried, herbs. Combine the herbs in a food processor with two garlic cloves and a healthy pour of good olive oil, just enough to keep the blades spinning to shred the herbs and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. The key is to be flexible enough to taste as you make it and add things if they're needed.
A note about chimichurri: you can add any number of different things to the chimichurri to make it interesting. One of my recommendations is to add Aleppo or red pepper flakes to add some spice, and if you want to cruise entirely into "red" chimichurri territory, add some chipotles in adobo, omit the mint, and add some paprika. Many variations are possible, and chimichurri goes well with pretty much any protein, or even pasta! Experiment!
You have a lot of options for the final step. If you're using a grill, you can either simply salt and pepper the tentacles and brush with olive oil and grill, adding chimichurri to serve, or you can coat in chimichurri before you grill. A third option is to marinate the octopus in the chimichurri for a time before grilling it. You can't go wrong with any of them. You'll want to get the grill nice and hot, and grill the tentacles for a few minutes, flipping occasionally, until they get a nice crispiness on the outside.
If you have a cast iron skillet, my recommendation is to get the skillet very hot and brush the tentacles in olive oil and salt and pepper. Sear and flip the tentacles occasionally until they have browned nicely. Pour the chimichurri over the octopus and serve.
This is a wonderful, healthy, and delicious meal that is one of the easiest things you can make. It requires almost no prep, and the sometimes slimy work of massaging the octopus is well worth the easy prep and easy cleanup! I recommend pairing this with a nice, medium-body, Spanish or Italian red with some grip and acidity.