It’s been on the list for ages, and my betentacled destiny beckons at last. It’s time to cook my first Spanish octopus.
It would be a stretch to call my first octo-stint wholly “successful” – grilling the partitioned beast over fiery coals on the Puerto Peñasco beach was a cheerful affair, but resulted in what would inevitably be remembered as rubber. Since then, I’ve done my reading; proper octopus (known by some as proptopus) (okay, this stops now) must be exposed to heat for either an extremely short amount of time, yielding a pleasantly springy final specimen, or stewed for an extended period, resulting in supremely tender cephalo-goodness.
I hunted down my frozen eight-legged friend at El Corte Inglés; I could swear they normally have them at Mercadona as well, but perhaps there was a run on them this weekend – I can’t be the only one who craves it. It took a warm water bath until totally defrosted, which took perhaps 10 minutes.
One of the neatest things about octopus is the amount of liquid they hold within their bodies; upon braising, this releases into the pot, conveniently cooking the flesh in its very own juices. It simmers this way for at least an hour, filling the air with aromas of tentacled tempation.
After a slew of stewing and an equally lengthy period of cooling rest, the octopus is ready for the knife. There’s nothing rubber-esque about it whatsoever at this point, and it smells divine. The head gets cut up completely as well; the only inedible bit is the small hard circle where the mouth bone has been removed – amazing.
My octopus was treated to a pairing with garlic, spinach, garbanzos, and a pair of thai bird chiles. The broth is purely what was released during braising, which ends up being quite strong, seafood-y and salty. The subtle heat imparted by the chiles rounds out this dish, prolonging the magic of the octo’s complex and dominating flavor.
It’s also ridiculously good for you; octopi are almost purely protein, plus a great source of iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Add spinach, and you have a seriously nutritious soup.
Octopus and Garbanzo Soup with Spinach, Garlic, and Chiles
Adapted from epicurious
takes: 2 1/2 hours, mostly unattended
makes: at least 4 hearty servings
1 cup cooked garbanzos
extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
Zest of 1 lemon
1 small octopus, defrosted and rinsed
1/2 package frozen spinach, defrosted
1-2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 dried thai bird chilies
1. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a pot (preferably heavy-bottomed, but you know, make do with what you got). Stir in 3 of the garlic cloves, the lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic begins to soften.
2. Add the octopus, stir to coat it with the oil, and then weight it down with a plate or lid to ensure it does not begin to float once it starts releasing its water. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to a gentle simmer. The octopus will start slowly releasing its water, creating its own braising liquid.
3. Cook for about 30 minutes and check to see how much braising liquid is in the pot. If it is about 1 cup or less (unlikely if you are using an uncooked whole octopus), add 1/2 cup of water. Check the tenderness and continue to cook for 30 to 50 minutes longer, or until almost completely tender. The octopus will dramatically decrease in volume.
4. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the octopus to cool in the braising liquid for 1 hour.
5. Once cooled, transfer the octopus to a large cutting board and strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh strainer. Give the pot used to cook the octopus a quick wash and return it to the stove.
6. Starting at the thickest point of the tentacle, slice into 1/4-inch-thick-pieces, increasing the thickness of the pieces as the tentacle becomes narrower. Halve the head, then cut it into 1/4-inch strips. Set aside.
7. To prepare the soup, heat a few tablespoons olive oil in the cleaned pot over medium heat. Add the remaining 3 garlic cloves, the celery, and the chiles. Stir in the beans and the octopus, plus however much reserved braising liquid you desire. Heat until hot and then taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed (probably not). Stir in the spinach and simmer for a few minutes more.
8. Serve immediately. Holy moley.