While the Spanish gobble up most of the European catch of octopuses (not octopi, look it up) our native curled octopus is much maligned as an unsightly monster from the deep and often left as seagull food when caught up with the rest of the catch. I’ve been unable to find old British recipe references for octopus put they surely must have been eaten as they sometimes get into crab and lobster pots and Westcountry people rarely waste a good meal. They start to come in shore around the coasts of Devon at this time of year and make an excellent eating at a very reasonable price. The native is distinguished from its larger Mediterranean kin and by having a single row of suckers on each arm instead of a double row and no one really knows why. When resting, they curl up their arms tightly hence the name, but maybe they should be called the Houdini octopuses because they can squeeze through tiny gaps as narrow as their beak.
There are many ways to cook an octopus but boiling them for an hour or so in a pot of salted water with some garlic, onion and herbs is the simplest and most versatile if you have never done it before. The cooked octopus can then be cut up and flavoured with a squeeze of lemon, paprika, good olive oil and flaky Malden sea salt and served as tapas, or with plain boiled potatoes, Galician style. At this point you can also flash grill them on a charcoal fire or add them to other dishes like risotto or pasta. I often cook Octopus and then leave it overnight in a flavourful marinade to eat the next day.
Due to their diminutive size I usually allow one for each person eating (about 500g per octopus). They are very easy to prepare and there are many videos on YouTube showing you how, but your fishmonger will do it for you in seconds. You will be left with a hollow head cap and a ring of arms.
Tenderising – easiest way – put then in the freezer and take them out 24hrs later.
Having done this you will need:
2 Curled Octopus
I peeled onion
A whole head of garlic cut in half, not peeled
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
Herbs such as – a bay leaf, peppercorns, a bit of fennel, parsley stalks, a bit of thyme
For the marinade
Several glugs of Good olive all
Malden sea salt
Juice of half a lemon or a teaspoon or so of wine vinegar.
Fill a large heavy pot with water, add the salt and bring to the boil.
Add the peeled onion, garlic and herbs.
Add the octopuses, bring back to the boil then lower the heat to simmer and cook until tender. I check after ½ hour then again at one hour, then every 15 minutes. These two took 1 hr 15mins. To test for tenderness use a sharp knife it should go through easily. I sometimes remove the head caps before the arms as they tend to cook more quickly.
I get my octopuses from Gibsons Plaice in Exeter, suppliers of high quality, fresh local fish sourced daily from Brixham Fish Market. Call 01392 495 344.They are very friendly and professional and you can phone up in advance and ask them to find you particular species when they go to market.There is always lots of lovely fresh fish on display at Gibsons’s Plaice
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