Help! What do I do with an octopus???
Octopus dishes are delicious. The meat is sweet and delicate and, if properly cooked, it ranges from firm to tender, but should not be tough or rubbery. It is usually boiled to tenderise it and can then be grilled, barbecued, served simply in salad or pickled as part of a meze table. It is relatively plentiful in British waters and not uncommon in restaurants, but home cooks tend to shy away from it. The main reason seems to be squeamishness about preparing it, or nervousness about getting it wrong. Any good fishmonger (including the in-store ones in the supermarket) will clean and gut it for you if asked. I tend not to ask, as it's not a difficult task and allows you to get the 'feel' of your octopus before you cook it.
Your first task is to give it a really good rinse in cold water. There's every chance the fish has released ink as it was caught, and you're going to need several changes of water to get that off. Octopus ink isn't harmful in any way, but it'll discolour everything it touches so you're better off rid of it if you don't intend making it part of the dish.
|Cutting the viscera (on the left) free of the mantle (in my hand)|
That's your octopus gutted and prepared. One last rinse in clean water, and you're ready to cook it.
My favourite ways to serve octopus are all fairly simple. Try this:
Boil a few waxy potatoes towards the end of cooking your octopus. Slice them while they're still hot and put them in a bowl with some chopped green olives, some chopped caper berries, a sliced shallot that you have marinated in a little wine vinegar and a good slug of virgin olive oil. Take your octopus out of the pan and cut it up into bite-sized pieces. Put these in the bowl with the potato salad. Season with pepper and a little salt, give it a stir to ensure it's well mixed, and cover it. Leave it for about an hour for the flavours to come together and serve it at room temperature. Serve with a light, dry white wine, such as Peccorino, Gavi or an English Solaris.
Next time: Oysters - how to eat them, how to cook them and what to serve with them.