Octopus cooking techniques are rarely delicate. Most I have come across centred on braising. And the vision of octopuses in a cement mixer, or the common practice of bashing them on the rocks after being caught, hardly helps its profile as a delicate protein.
I started looking at octopus differently some time ago when I found out that if it is treated well and grilled on medium heat, the texture becomes enjoyable. There is a fine line between chewy and delicious, so cooking octopus is not something to approach with reckless abandon. If it is not cooked enough, it creates an unpleasant pasty texture, and if it is grilled too much it does end up a bit beyond toothsome.
The daikon-rubbing technique releases an enzyme from the radish that tenderises the octopus. I find this a more delicate approach than rock-bashing because most of the structure remains intact and the octopus retains its integrity. The blanching and drying technique is to firm up the flesh. Images abound of octopuses hanging out on clotheslines – for good reason. The skin firms up and the octopus loses any excess moisture before it is grilled, ensuring it doesn’t turn into a stew.
The pleasantly sweet and marine flavours of grilled octopus are hard to beat. Braising the octopus gives a consistent but inferior result, so be brave in your approach.
Serves 6 as a snack
Time: 3 hours preparation + 20 minutes cooking
- 2kg large octopus
- 1 daikon
- 10g salt flakes
- 30ml light olive oil
- 60ml sherry vinegar
- 20g dried chilli threads
- ½ bunch Greek oregano
- 60ml extra virgin olive oil (finishing)
- Slice half of the daikon into one-centimetre slices and add to the octopus in a bowl. Rub the cut side of the remaining daikon in the salt, then massage the octopus with it for two minutes before cutting the end off the daikon to add to the bowl. Repeat the process until you have massaged the octopus for about 10 minutes. Slice the rest of the daikon and add to the octopus in the bowl. Let this rest for one hour.
- Bring a pot of water to the boil and blanch the octopus whole for five seconds. Remove and hang in a dry area (preferably outside) for two hours.
- Cut each tentacle of the octopus into individual pieces, then remove the excess skin from the back of each tentacle. Some of this will pull away like a sausage skin but use a knife so you don’t damage the suckers.
- Heat a cast-iron pan with a little light olive oil to medium heat, then place a couple of tentacles in the pan carefully, sucker-side down. Don’t overcrowd the pan or the octopus will start stewing, and watch carefully so the tentacles don’t curl up and flip over off the suckers. Cook the octopus on the suckers for three minutes, then deglaze the pan with some of the vinegar. Roll the octopus around in this while it remains on the heat for a further three minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat and let it rest for two minutes before removing the tentacles and placing them on a chopping board. Repeat the process until all the tentacles are cooked.
- Once the octopus is about room temperature, use a sharp knife to slice it into 1.5-centimetre rounds. Place these onto a serving plate and finish with the chilli threads, chopped oregano and a good amount of extra virgin olive oil.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 16, 2022 as "Sucker punch".
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