This recipe is based on a classic Greek octopus salad. Tender, meaty octopus is nestled upon salad leaves to serve as part of a mezze feast, or with the saffron-roasted potatoes and mayonnaise.
When it comes to octopus, ‘tender’ isn’t necessarily a given, but the multiple steps – and the vinegar – help no end. The initial blanching in hot water tenderises the meat, then poaching the octopus in the vinegar’s acidity breaks down the toughness of the meat and the job is completed by marinating the cooked octopus in more vinegar before serving. If all of that sounds like a bit of a faff – it isn’t. Just a bit of in-and-out of hot water, poaching and a marinade.
1kg octopus (cleaned by the fishmonger so it is ready for cooking)
150ml white wine vinegar
Juice of ½ orange
2 bay leaves
100ml olive oil
100ml red wine vinegar
½tsp dried oregano
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 handfuls of salad leaves of your choice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Blanch the octopus to tenderise it: bring a large pan of water to the boil, lower the octopus into it for one minute, then lift out and refresh in cold water. Repeat three times with fresh water each time. You will see the tentacles curl up with each immersion in the hot water, then relax in the cold. Clean the pan thoroughly if you want to use it for the rest of the recipe, as there may be scum on the sides.
Put the vermouth, white wine vinegar, orange juice and bay leaves into a large pan. Bring to a simmer, then add the octopus. Cover and gently cook for 45 minutes to one hour. It is ready when tender to the prick of a fork.
Remove the octopus from the poaching liquid, retaining 50ml of the liquid and discarding the rest. If you would like to give your octopus a bit of ‘charred’ colour, then quickly put it under the grill, or return it to the now-empty pan it cooked in, for 30 seconds each side. Afterwards, charred or not, cut the tentacles off and put into a bowl.
Mix together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, garlic and the reserved 50ml of poaching liquid. Season and pour this over the octopus tentacles – they should be just about submerged – cover and chill for six hours or overnight, turning occasionally.
When you are ready to serve, remove the octopus from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Arrange the salad leaves on a serving plate, then lift the octopus pieces out of the marinade and arrange on top of the leaves. Drizzle over three tablespoons or so of the marinade and serve.
Note: The white wine vinegar used for poaching can be any kind of basic vinegar. But for the marinade, go for an interesting, bright – but not too heavy – red wine vinegar.
• Taken from The Vinegar Cupboard by Angela Clutton. Read the review here.