I remember the first time I ate octopus. It was not the taste or the smell that I remember, but the whole process of preparation, the “experience” of octopus. It was 18 years ago and I was on the island of Skopelos. Being from the frozen tundra of Canada, I was soaking up like a sponge, all the sun, the heat and the clear blue sea. On this particular day my friends and I were snorkelling near a formation of rocks jutting like teeth out of the water. There, in about 6 feet of water hiding under a crevasse of rock, was a small octopus. Without warning like in an old James Bond movie, my friend produced a speargun. And before you could say sustainable fishing the deed was done, the ink clinging in the water like heavy smoke. What came next caught me totally off guard. Once the octopus was on land my Greek friend stuck his thumb somewhere inside the beast, turned him inside out and cut out all his vital organs. Next he proceeded to beat him against the wharf like something out of a God Father movie. The beating went on for quite some time until the octopus seemed to be lathered in a soap-like residue. Seemingly satisfied, my friend rinsed off the poor creature in the sea and took him back to the boat to await another somewhat more culinary fate. Many hours later I looked at my plate and I saw something similar to the picture above. I looked at it and in horror I realized that I was expected to eat some of it. So in my mind I prayed the prayer “God if I get it in you have to keep it down!” I picked up my fork, stabbed a tentacle and put it into my mouth. It was amazing. What I expected to feel and taste like a rubber boot was in fact juicy and tender like a piece of chicken (yes, because everything unknown tastes like chicken). After that day I was hooked, I now enjoy octopus every chance I get. Your experience of octopus does not have to be as violent or as traumatic (at least not for you anyway!) as mine was, but you can still enjoy this fine cephalopod from the comforts of your own grill, the trick is in the preparation.
What you need:
- 1 small to medium octopus (half a kilo) fresh or frozen
- 1 cup of red wine
- Juice of 1 lemon (or more)
- Olive oil as needed
- Oregano, salt and pepper to taste
How it’s done:
- Thaw your octopus if frozen.
- Remove any internal organs. Place your thumb inside the mantle and turn it inside out. Cut out all the organs and rinse with water.
- Locate the beak (the point on the underside where all the legs meet) and from the backside push the beak out through the mouth hole.
- Now you need to tenderize the octopus. If you grill without first braising, it will taste like a spare tire.
- Place the octopus in a covered pot without any liquid.
- Heat over med-high at first to draw the liquid out of the creature.
- After a few minutes turn the heat to low and continue to braise for about half an hour or so.
- If the octopus boils dry, turn your heat down and add a bit of water.
- When done let the octopus cool in it’s own juices.
- Once cool, marinate the octopus in the wine and a little oregano.
- I usually prepare this the day before and marinate it in the refrigerator overnight.
- Pre-heat your grill.
- Take the octopus out of the marinade, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and grill for about 10 minutes per side.
- As it is grilling, season with a little lemon juice.
- When done, drizzle with olive oil and lemon, cut it into bite sized pieces and serve.
So now you can tell your guests as I told my son….Put your purse down and pick up your fork!