I only tried to cook fresh octopus one time–maybe six years ago. Mom and I bought a dressed octopus from the grocery store and tried broiling it. After a few impatient minutes, we turned the oven light on to check on it, only to see its tentacles curling up sickeningly under the flame–like it was still alive in there.
“Gross,” Mom said. We gave it probably 15 more minutes before pulling it out. She tentatively sliced up one of the overly-singed appendages. We’d already decided we were disgusted, but just for good measure, the meat was chewy to the point of almost being inedible.
We later learned that the best way to cook it is very slowly and for a long time (either baked in a low-ish oven, poached or boiled), till it becomes tender. But I have a hard time bringing myself to try it again. I can’t unsee the curling tentacles.
So when I want octopus, I take the 10-minute train ride to pretty much any restaurant in Greek Town, where the octopus is perpetually tender, charred and salty–tossed in silky olive oil with lemon or red wine vinegar. When I want octopus at home, I pick up a little can of the oil-packed stuff at the grocery store in my neighborhood.
For this Spanish-inspired salad, I fried the octopus and a few mild peppers in olive oil and mixed them with shallot, raw bell pepper and parsley in a simple red wine vinaigrette.
That’s it. It came together in just a few minutes for a lovely appetizer.
Maybe some day, I’ll get over the horror of the curling tentacles and try cooking octopus again. For now, I’ll stick to the can.
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 small bell pepper, large diced
5 or 6 fresh shishito peppers (if you can’t find shishitos, use Anaheims)
1 4-ounce can octopus (I like Matiz Gallego), drained
1/4 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Method: Whisk together the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add the shallots and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium high. Toss in the shishito peppers and season with salt. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, turning every 30 seconds or so, until the skin is slightly blistered on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Inmmediately add the octopus and a little more oil to the same pan if needed. Cook over medium high for 3 to 4 minutes, turning occasionally, until the octopus is slightly charred. Remove and let cool for a few minutes.
Slice the stems off the cooled peppers if desired. Add them to the shallots and vinaigrette, along with the octopus, diced raw bell pepper and parsley. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve at room temperature.