The cephalopod returns but in a different, larger form. This majestic creature of the sea, or at least half of it as the whole beast would have been 2.5 kg, was the starting point, or the star ingredient, for dinner last night. There are a couple of ways to cook such meaty octopus. Firstly, there is the quick way, such as frying it in a very hot pan, where the temperature of the octopus is rapidly brought up to 55-57 deg C. (131-135 deg F.) – yeah I know that’s really precise, but the thing is, because the octopus fibres are thin and compact giving it that dense texture they are prone to toughening up when heated; and in this case anything above 60 deg C. (140 deg F.) will give you that tough chewy consistency (a bit like the roast beef I was served as a kid). The other way is to cook it really slowly so that time is given for the muscle fibres to break down. There’s a great little article that goes into a little more detail; here’s the link, I wrote it a while ago.
But more importantly what was I to do with this beautiful piece of the ocean. I decided on a slow cook method, so a stew seemed like a good place to start. If you’ve ever tasted cooked unseasoned octopus, or squid for that matter, then you’ll know that it’s pretty tasteless – hey, would you like a bit more science?
“Awww yes please, I didn’t think you’d ask you cheeky little blog writer, you” I hear you say.
Go on then. Because an octopus lives in salted water it needs to maintain a balance of salt in its body. So that it doesn’t absorb too much salt – through a geeky named process called osmosis – it has chemicals within to prevent it from doing so. The main chemical is known as TMAO (trimethylamine oxide) and it’s this chemical that leads to its flavourless taste. What I’m getting round to saying is that octopus needs some strong flavours to get the best out of it, which is why it is often pickled.
So, thinking about strong flavours, I know that octopus goes really well with tomato, red wine and herbs (don’t know where I pulled that one from). Anyway, I love cooking with a decent Merlot as it has a mellow but juicy palate often with lovely blackcurrant and liquorice notes, and it cooks down really well. I added some extra acidity in the form of an aged-red wine vinegar and some sweet balsamic vinegar, and also made sure that the tomatoes were nice and ripe for a great umami hit – here’s another article, this time on umami, in case you were going to lose sleep wondering what it was.
I cooked the octopus for about 2 and a quarter hours in total, ensuring that it was too tender to be rendered into shoe leather but still had some resistance for a delicate chewy texture. It was a big thumbs up from the family.
Crazily Good Octopus and Red Wine StewPrint
- For the Octopus:
- ■ 1kg fresh octopus | I used 4 large tentacles which were just over 1kg.
- ■ 1 brown onion | Roughly chopped.
- ■ 2 bay leaves |
- ■ 2 pinches of salt |
- For the Stew:
- ■ 10 ripe Roma tomatoes | Equivalent to about 700g of tomato.
- ■ 60ml olive oil |
- ■ 4 cloves garlic | Finely chopped.
- ■ 1 brown onion | Finely sliced.
- ■ 1 red onion | Finely sliced.
- ■ 1 tbsp. rosemary | Finely chopped.
- ■ 2 tbsp. parsley | Finely chopped.
- ■ 40ml red wine vinegar | An aged one is great but not vital.
- ■ 20ml balsamic vinegar |
- ■ 250ml good red wine | A Merlot or similar is ideal.
- ■ 10 Kalamata olives | Pitted and halved.
- Extra parsley for garnish.
For the octopus: clean it if necessary removing any of the coloured outer membrane. Place it in a large pan with the bay leaves, the roughly chopped brown onion and salt, and cover with cold water until completely submerged. Bring the water to the boil and then reduce to a very gentle simmer for 1 hour. After the hour, remove the octopus and allow to cool. Discard the water, onion and bay leaves.
Preheat an oven to 160 deg C. (320 deg F.).
For the stew: firstly, remove the skin from the tomatoes by scoring each at the base with a cross and then placing in boiling water for about 20 seconds. Now, place the tomatoes in ice cold water for a minute, after which the skins should be easy to peel away. Dice the skinned tomatoes and set aside.
Cut the cooled octopus into bite sized pieces. Heat the olive oil in a casserole dish over a medium heat and when hot add the octopus and garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the brown and red onions, rosemary and parsley and cook for a further 3-5 minutes, stirring continuously; the onions should be soft and translucent. Turn the heat to high and add the red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, red wine, tomatoes and olives and stir well. Bring to the boil and then cover the casserole dish with a tight fitting lid. Place in the oven and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes. When cooked, give it a gentle stir and serve immediately. It goes great on a creamy mashed potato, but is excellent with warmed bread. I served this one with a warmed Middle Eastern za’atar bread.