The fishmonger held up the octopus. The tentacles were as long as his arms. “How many legs?” he grinned.
“Three,” I said and watched as he cut the octopus into two. He curled the tentacles over one another and parcelled them up.
When the days start lengthening and, more importantly, the evenings warming, all I want to do is eat outside. Dinner should be quick, light and as fragrant as the jasmine blooming over the fence. Cooking seafood reminds me that soon it will be warm enough to swim in the ocean, that soon it’ll be hot enough to spend the days salty as seaweed. Until then, I make do with eating octopus.
Our lovely chef friend Brian Edwards taught us this easy way of cooking octopus. Octopus needs to be cooked quick or long, there’s no in-between, but this method is not too long; it takes just 45 minutes and the freezing of the octopus beforehand does the job of breaking down the enzymes. Don’t be fooled into adding liquid to the pot, the octopus will release all its lovely salty juices and, when ready, the flesh will be tender and mouth-watering.
Serve this dish with cold beers, under a starry sky. The salad tastes like a premonition – of the hot, salty summer to come. Let’s spend it by the sea.
Warm octopus herb salad
Serves 4 as an appetiser
(Begin this recipe the night before, by freezing the octopus.)
800g octopus (3 large tentacles)
1 clove garlic, sliced
½ large chilli, sliced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
fresh coriander, picked and washed
fresh parsley, picked and washed
zest from 1 lemon
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a little sea salt
3 lemons, wedged
bread to serve
Defrost when you are ready to cook (this should take an hour or so) and rinse under cold water. Sweat the garlic and chilli in a little olive oil in a heavy based fry pan (with a tight-fitting lid) until fragrant and translucent (around 30 seconds). Add the octopus and let it stew in its own juices for 45 minutes with the lid on (on very low heat). The octopus will release quite a bit of liquid and turn a beautiful red-purple. To check it is ready, give a tentacle a little squeeze. It should be soft to the touch, with not too much resistance when poked – no longer rubbery.
Remove from the pot, let cool a little and chop tentacles roughly. Move to a warmed plate and dress in a drizzle of olive oil, lemon zest, herbs, salt. Pile octopus salad atop some charred slices of bread or just serve with a fresh, crusty loaf of ciabatta.
Serve with lemon wedges. You can’t really have too much lemon in a recipe like this.