Octopus may seem intimidating to cook, but it actually
doesn’t take much time or effort, and goes beautifully with Mediterranean
flavors. Image source: Flickr CC user
Are you an adventurous eater? I typically didn’t think of myself as one, but that changed the summer I traveled through the Greek islands of Mykonos and Paros and ate octopus for the first time. I’ll be honest, I only ate it to be polite, but from my first bite, I was hooked.
This completely surprised me, because I expected it to have a rubbery texture and a strong, fishy flavor. But it was tender and succulent, almost like lobster, and had a very delicate taste that was complimented by subtle Greek flavors of white wine, garlic, red wine vinegar, and oregano. Even though I was adventurous enough to eat it, I’ve never thought I’d have guts to try and recreate this dish at home. But I surprised myself again by hosting a Greek-inspired dinner party featuring octopus. I’ve heard you are never supposed to try a new recipes on guests, but it worked for me--perhaps the key to success when experimenting on a crowd is to keep everything else incredibly simple.
The Easiest, Tastiest Greek Octopus
There is something so intimidating about the thought of cooking octopus. Where do you buy it? Do you have to clean it? How do you cook it? Is it slimy? To avoid having to spend hours driving around searching for an octopus, only to have it sit in my car for an hour on the way home, I ordered my octopus online. It arrived at my door frozen, and cleaned (thank goodness!), so all I had to do was let it thaw in the fridge overnight and it was ready to cook the next day.
It only took me about an hour and a half to make this dish from start to finish, and it was honestly a lot less scary than I expected. I did learn a few things as I was cooking, though, which may be useful for you to know when you cook octopus. For instance, many recipes for octopus call for boiling it in a big pot of water, but the octopus will release a lot of liquid as it cooks, so I opted for just adding my wine and vinegar at the beginning, and added water as needed. This way, the octopus soaks up the flavorful liquid for a delicious result. Another tip: don’t use salt until the end! Octopus is naturally salty, so to avoid over salting, taste the octopus when it is finished cooking and simply sprinkle with salt if needed.
Greek-Isle Inspired Octopus
Cut the head off of the octopus just below the eyes. Then place the tentacles in a large pot and add wine and vinegar. Bring to a boil and cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Check the liquid levels and add enough water so that the octopus is mostly submerged. Continue simmering, with the lid on, for 35 more minutes. You know you are done when the octopus is tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from pot and let cook on a cutting board. Once it is cool cut the tentacles so they are separated, then cut into smaller pieces, about 4 inches long.
Heat a large pan over medium high heat, and add olive oil. Add octopus tentacles to the pan, searing them from 1-2 minutes on each side. Your goal here is to get a little color on them. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add onions and tomatoes to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes, or until very soft. Add garlic and oregano and cook 30 seconds more. Deglaze with balsamic vinegar and a bit of water if needed. Remove from heat and add pepper.
To serve, arrange onion and tomato mixture on a platter and top with the octopus. Sprinkle with parsley.
Simple Greek Sides to Accompany Octopus
Since this was my first time cooking octopus, I really didn’t know how much time I would have to prepare the rest of the meal. Even though it turned out to be quite straightforward, I didn’t want any added stress or fussing about while I was making the main dish. So again, I drew a little inspiration from the dishes I ate on my trip.
For starters, I served an assortment of plump Greek olives, feta cheese drizzled with honey and olive oil, with a sprinkling of oregano, dolmades, and fresh pita. All of these were totally effortless, thanks to my local Greek market. To accompany the octopus, I made a simple steamed rice with lemon and oregano to soak up all its delicious juices. For a pop of green I made traditional Greek horta, but I combined kale with the typical dandelion greens, just to put my own West Coast spin on things and to cut down on the bitterness. I also tossed together a quick Greek salad with cherry tomatoes, red onion, peppers and cucumber, because in my opinion, a Greek-inspired dinner party wouldn’t be complete without one.
Bring water and rice to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and let cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
Fluff rice with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl. Add olive oil oregano, lemon zest, and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the salt and greens. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook greens for about 8-10 minutes. Drain off water and return greens to pot.
Meanwhile whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, and honey and use it to dress the greens. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Transfer greens to a platter and set aside or serve immediately.
Note: You can make this dish well in advance of serving, since it is typically served at room temperature. I made this the morning of the party, and just kept it in the fridge until a few hours before I served dinner, to take the chill off.
If there’s anything that eating and cooking octopus has taught
me, it’s that often the preconceived judgments we have about food turn out to
be completely inaccurate. Not only is octopus now one of my favorite foods, I
also know that it is easy to cook at home. And I’ve got to say that
ordering octopus online from a reliable
seafood distributor like
Daily Fresh Fish made it much less intimidating,
and saved me a lot of time. When my friends arrived, everything was ready, so I
got to spend the whole evening visiting with them, chatting about my travels in
Greece, and dreaming about going back. Until then, I will just have to keep
cooking octopus up for friends who aren’t afraid of a little adventure.