One of the loves that I developed while living in Texas was a love for Spanish-style octopus.
The first time I tasted it was at a tapas restaurant in Dallas. The octopus had been boiled, grilled and simply dressed with olive oil and lemon. Tender, smoky and tangy with lemon, it was delicious.
I’ve periodically craved Pulpo Gallego since but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I got the nerve up to cook it myself.
I thought that finding octopus in Salem would be difficult. Turns out it’s not. They sell frozen in the 3 to 4 pound range at Fitts Seafoods as well as Que Huong Oriental market.
The first fear you must overcome is your aversion to the slimy weird feeling when you handle an octopus. It will look weird and you may recoil the first time that you touch it, but just gather your strength and soldier on.
First, thaw the octopus in a bowl of water or in cold water in the sink. Then fortify yourself with a big sip of wine or beer. Once thawed, grab the octopus by the head with one hand and the kitchen scissors with the other and start trimming off each tentacle, severing it from the octopus where it attaches to the base of the body below its head. Keep the tentacles, discard the octopus head.
That’s the hard part.
The key to cooking octopus so that it comes out tender is to boil it for 45 minutes and then shock it in cold ice water. Wash your hands and have the rest of that beer or wine, and use the following recipe for a deliciously tender and tasty Pulpo Gallego.
Serves 4 as an appetizer
A 3- to 4-pound octopus, thawed, rinsed and tentacles severed from body
½ cup pickling spice
¼ cup kosher salt
¾ cup fresh lemon juice plus juice from ½ a lemon, separated from the rest of the juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ of a lemon sliced into very thin triangular pieces
Salt to taste
In a heavy pot, combine tentacles and water enough to cover by a couple of inches. Add pickling spice, kosher salt and 3/4 cup of lemon juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, covered.
Turn off heat, remove tentacles and drop them into a bowl of ice water until octopus is thoroughly cooled, and drain. The tentacles can be stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. To serve, slice octopus into thin pieces and place into a bowl. Toss with reserved lemon juice, lemon slices, olive oil and season to taste with salt, and serve.