Spain is known for its national dish of paella, a saffron-flavored rice combined with a variety of meats and shellfish, but that is just one of many delectable preparations that make up Spanish cuisine. I have been fortunate to visit this vibrant country rich in history and tradition and I cannot say enough about the people, the landscape, the wine and of course, the food. During this sojourn I was introduced to tapas, those small plates present at many bars and restaurants. They are appetizers that usually accompany sherry, other aperitifs or cocktails. They can range from simple items like marinated olives and chunks of ham and cheese to more elaborate preparations like cold omelets, shellfish in spicy sauce, stuffed peppers or mini sandwiches to name a few. This is where I was first introduced to octopus. It may sound ominous if you have never eaten or prepared it but if you think of it as a relative of calamari it isn’t such a big stretch. When prepared correctly it is tender, succulent and very versatile. It can be served raw as in sushi, boiled, grilled, pickled or sautéed. When I first encountered it I thought it quite exotic but in recent years it has gained popularity here in the U.S. and is available on many restaurant menus. A local seafood restaurant where I dined last week had a large offering of small plates including one featuring octopus salad. That served as my motivation to create the preparation I bring to you today.
Often thought of as chewy with a rubbery texture, it is important to tenderize it. In the past I simmered it in seasoned water for a relatively long time but this time I decided to shorten the process by using the pressure cooker. If you don’t have one, I would urge you to consider the purchase. This vessel can cut hours from preparation of beans, tough cuts of meat, root vegetables or stews. I often cook whole chickens in it for use in enchiladas, sandwiches, salads or any recipe where it calls for cooked chicken. It can be ready in about 20 minutes! New technology has made them safer and more efficient. They are not your grandma’s cooker anymore.
After tenderizing, I put it on the grill for a little smokiness and char. Here is out it went down.
Potato Salad w/ Grilled Octopus – pressure cooker recipe
Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
Many recipes suggest that you cook the potatoes and octopus together to save time. If you do this, be prepared for “purple” potatoes because the pigment of the octopus skin will seep into the cooking liquid and in turn seep into the potatoes.
- 1-2 lbs. baby octopus
- 2 lbs. potatoes (about 6 medium)
- 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1T whole black peppercorns
- Sea salt
- 1-2 handful of greens
- 1 bunch of parsley, chopped
- 1 recipe vinaigrette (below)
Prepare your grill for high heat.
Clean the Octopus
- Remove the head, slit it in half and turn it inside out to empty its contents and the little attached things including the eyes. Then, remove the beak (the little hard thing) in the center where all of the tentacles meet. Rinse the cleaned octopus under running water (you can ask your fish monger to clean it for you also).
- In the meantime, cook the potatoes. Wash and scrub the potatoes well and place them whole, un-peeled, in the pressure cooker. Add enough water to just cover the potatoes in half, a pinch of salt and close and lock the top.
- Set the burner to high and wait for the pan to begin whistling. Then, lower the burner to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. When the time is up, release all the steam or allow to cool until pressure has subsided. Remove the potatoes with tongs (reserve the cooking water). when cool enough to handle, peel, if desired, and cut into 1/4-inch slices.
Cook The Octopus
- Next, cook the octopus. Add more water in the pressure cooker (enough to almost cover), add garlic cloves, bay leaf, the whole peppercorns, another pinch of salt and bring to a boil before adding the octopus.
- Lower the octopus in the pressure cooker tentacles first. If (for presentation) you want to curl them, dip the tips of the tentacles and pull out, then dip a little more and pull out, and a little more again and pull out until the whole length of the tentacle is curled. Then drop the whole octopus in the pressure cooker.
- Close and lock the lid of the pressure cooker. Turn the heat up to high and when the cooker reaches pressure, lower to the heat to the minimum required by the cooker to maintain pressure. Cook for 15-20 minutes at high pressure, depending on the size.
- When time is up, open the cooker by releasing the pressure or waiting for it to cool until pressure has subsided.
- Check the octopus for tenderness by seeing if a fork will sink easily in the thickest part flesh. If not, close the lid and bring it and bring to pressure for another minute or two.
- Remove and strain the octopus.
- You can remove the skin by dragging the back of a knife on the flesh – only remove the skin from the suction-cup side if you also want to remove the suction cups. This is optional depending on your sensibilities.
- Brush the octopus with olive oil and season with salt. Place on hot grill until you see the grill marks on each side. Do not overcook!
- Chop the head and tentacles into small or medium chunks. I left my pieces about 1 ½ inches long.
Vinaigrette (can be made a day in advance, if desired)
½ c Extra-Virgin olive oil, good quality
2T white wine vinegar
2-3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (start w/ 2T and adjust as needed)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
Whisk together or shake in a small jar
Taste and adjust until perfectly balanced
- Tear greens to bite-sized or use baby greens. Lay the greens onto a platter. Drizzle lightly with vinaigrette. Fan the sliced potatoes out on top of the greens. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. Scatter the octopus pieces over the top and sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top. Drizzle again with vinaigrette. Serve at room temp or chill before serving.
Note: I used russet potatoes because that is what I had but a waxy potato like Yukon gold or baby reds would be great. You can add tomato, green beans or other seasonal vegetables if desired.
I know you are thinking this is a lot of steps and admittedly, it is not fast food. I think it is worth it, though, if you have a taste for the unusual. Your efforts will result in a soft and succulent texture, dressed in a tangy sauce and an exotic presentation your family and friends will be talking about for a long time. The dish is equally as sumptuous as it is impressive.
For those of you salivating right now I say DO NOT BE AFRAID. You can do it! Make your next occasion a bit more noteworthy and keep spreading the love, one exotic dish at a time. From my pressure cooker to you, I send my love. Good eating, Jeanne