This dish (also known as Pulpo a la Gallego) comes from the very heart of Spanish octopus land – Galicia. It was in A Coruña during an absolutely torrential rain storm that I ducked into a cavernous bar one evening and encountered octopus being cooked and served up in the traditional way. The bar offered only octopus as sustenance with or without potatoes and a small selection of wines. To accompany octopus the wine of choice should ideally be a carafe of ‘joven’ wine. I went for the blanco joven. The octopus is cooked in batches in huge cauldrons that are heated at the base and from the floor come up to waist height. The octopus is traditionally served on wooden boards and drizzled with EVOO and sprinkled with salt and paprika. Nowadays, probably due to hygiene concerns, it is usually served on plates. This was not the case in this particular bar! First a note on preparing the octopus: Have the fishmonger clean out and prepare the body of the octopus. The octopus should be roughly 2 kgs or 2 smaller one’s coming to that weight. One way to tenderize is to whack it repeatedly with a heavy flat object (images from the past of Greek fishermen throwing the octopus repeatedly against the rocks). The best way is to freeze it for a few days. This is probably the only sea food that improves after freezing, so if you have the time buy it fresh and put it immediately into deep freeze. You can also buy pre-frozen octopus from specialised food shops but this is a rather hit and miss venture as not all octopus will ever get tenderised no matter how much they are frozen/cooked, like the ones from Thailand or other certain areas of South East Asia. Best is from the North Atlantic. But anyway, here is what I encountered on that rainy wet evening. You need to use the largest pan you have.
About 2 kgs of octopus prepared as described above
2-3 kgs of potatoes, peeled.
1 onion, peeled
3 bay leaves
3 dried red chillies/peppers
A scoop of black peppercorns
Spanish Paprika picante
Sea salt crystals
In the very large pan put in the onion, bay leaves, dried chillies and peppercorns, Fill with as much water as possible and bring to the boil (do not add salt).
Next is the most important step: With the water boiling hold the octopus by the body and dip the tentacles fully into the water for a few seconds and then lift it out. Wait for water to return to the boil and repeat 3 more times. (If you have 2 smaller ones use 2 hands to dip both at the same time). Plunge the octopus into the pan, bring to a boil and then on a moderate heat cook the octopus for about 40mins or until it becomes ‘al dente’. Remove the octopus and set aside to drain. Do not throw away the water the octopus was cooked in as this is reserved for the next step.
Next put the peeled potatoes into the pan and cook until just done (ensure you don’t overcook them). Remove the potatoes and when cooled slice crosswise into 1.5 cm slices. Place the slices of potatoes on each of the plates/boards.
Chop the octopus tentacles into 1-2cm chunks and chop up the body into thinish slices.
Place the chopped octopus on top of the potatoes, drizzle with EVOO and sprinkle with a little salt and then the paprika. Should be served at room temperature or slightly warm.
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