My first encounter with an Octopus – Polpo in Italian – happened as a kid. Family friends had fished a big one in the Mediterranean, near a rocky area. When they brought it home, I was impressed and quite frightened by this slimy, strange creature. I asked the lady of the house in charge of the lunch how she was going to deal with this mysterious animal: “facilissimo! E che ci vuole?” Super easy, it won’t take much! I couldn’t believe my ears. I sat fascinated, watching her clean the octopus, by removing the beak (a kind of black nail situated in the center) and the ink pocket. Then she immersed the pulp 3 times in boiling water, keeping it 20 seconds each time, to make sure the tentacles would roll up and then leaving it to boil for approximately one hour with some wine corks, to make it tender – so goes the saying. I have found no scientific proof of this rule though, but if it doesn’t help, it can’t hurt either. The result was a tender, white, naturally slightly salty meat with this incredible purple skin. I was a bit scared of eating the suckers, but everyone around the table was not cutting them off, so I did the same and felt like an adult.
Since then, I always proved a feeling of awe and respect for this aquatic animal, maybe for its numerous tentacles reaching out to the world. I never saw it in the sea, probably because they tend to hide in the crevices of the rocks.
This mollusk is a nutritional wonder especially for the very low calories, high protein content; it is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, and it has anti-inflammatory properties, contains high levels of other antioxidants (selenium, folate, vitamin B12) that may help reduce the risk of cancer. Octopus (the name derives from the ancient Greek language, means “8 legged”) thrives in oceans around the world; its population has been growing in recent decades, probably due to overfishing of other species – so we can eat it wild without feeling bad. It constitutes an important staple of many coastal communities.
It is very hard to find fresh octopus, but the frozen ones are as good as the fresh ones, if not even better: the freezing process tenderizes the meat, so if you defrost it slowly in your refrigerator overnight you won’t need to use a meat tenderizer. Also, frozen octopus has already been cleaned.
Both fresh and frozen octopuses shrink a lot during the cooking process, so the weight after cooking will be approximately half of the weight before cooking. The octopus that is common in the Mediterranean Sea is usually smaller than the ones living in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Usually, the frozen octopuses I buy are around 3 pounds, but I’m sure that there are bigger ones in commerce as well. I personally prefer smaller ones, as I have the impression that they are more tender and easier to handle.
Today we are preparing a boiled octopus served carpaccio style. But once you have learned the basic boiling method you can experiment with several other recipes that require a boiled octopus to start with.
PREMIUM CONTENT for MEMBERS ONLY
For 4 Servings
1 cup Carnaroli rice
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 tablespoons of EV Olive Oil
½ glass of white table wine
1 pint chicken stock preprepared (or vegetable stock)
1 cup rinsed blueberries
1 cup roasted chestnuts or more, chopped in big pieces
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons gorgonzola cheese (optional)