Now, don´t go getting all squeamish on me, because today I´m going to explain how to cook an octopus! This is a dish which traditional comes from the north west of Spain in the autonomous community of Galicia. It sits on the border with northern Portugal and has both an Atlantic and a Bay of Biscay coastline.
This coming weekend we´re taking a little holiday and heading north to Galicia and Asturias, so I´ll be able to show you some photos of the “real deal” soon. In the meantime, I´ll just set about cooking one of Galicia´s most famous dishes, Pulpo a la Gallega.
First take your octopus….ok, so I appreciate some of you may not be able to get hold of a fresh, whole one, but if ever you do, you´ll know what to do with it. They´re white when raw and turn a beautiful purple colour when cooked. All the nasties (i.e. the muck and eyes) are contained in the head. If you´re game, just chop the head off, cut off the section with the eyes and scoop out the nasties from the inside. Give the whole thing a good rinse, including the tentacles and you´re done. Alternatively you can clean it after it´s cooked, but it leaves you with mucky stock. And no one likes mucky stock, do they?! Ok, that´s the messy bit over, the fainthearted can join us again now.
For info, you don´t need to beat your raw octopus against a rock until it´s tender like you may have seen in quaint fishing movies. Just freeze it first for a day or two and when it´s defrosted you´ll have a lovely tender octopus.
Put the octopus into a heavy saucepan and just cover with water. No need to add salt, this is done when it is cooked. I think this is where the Galicians leave it, but I like to add a little extra flavour which then gives me an amazing stock at the end to use in other dishes like Seafood Stew. I add a few tablespoons of olive oil, a bay leaf, a dried chilli and a couple of cloves – but this is entirely optional.
This will now need to be cooked slowly for up to a couple of hours (depending on how much your octopus weighs). You can´t really over cook it if you take it slowly, and you can either do this on the stove top or in a slow oven. Test it with a skewer in the thickest part of a tentacle – if it slides in as though through butter, you´re done! Some people do like to go for the quick and fast cook – I think it would be great in a pressure cooker, but I´ve never done it like that so I have no idea of timings.
Meanwhile you are going to boil about 2 medium potatoes per person in their skins. When you are ready to serve, peel the potatoes and roughly chop into smallish chunks. It´s traditionally served on round wooden platters, but I know some people won´t have one or prefer not to use them for hygiene reasons. We throw caution to the wind and are both, so far, still standing….but I promise not to tell anyone if you use a large flat plate.
Lift the pulpo out of the delicious stock and either chop with scissors into little pieces or chop with a knife. Make a base out of the cooked potatoes, pile the pulpo on top and now a good seasoning of sea salt, plenty of pimentón (hot or sweet according to your preference) and a good dousing in olive oil which will soak into those chunks of potato and pulpo.
It´s not a tricky dish to make, it can be pulled together for serving at the last minute and looks pretty impressive. Most importantly though it tastes amazing….go on, get brave with an octopus!