The first time I had this Galician-style dish was many years ago in Sevilla. There, it was served with boiled potatoes and braised octopus. Although delicious, it was a bit too traditional. One problem that traditional cuisines often face is that they’re too rooted in tradition. That is to say, they could use some modern cooking techniques, informed by our contemporary understanding of food science. I’ve done that here.
In the traditional dish, untenderized large octopus is oven braised and then finished with oil in the pan. The potatoes are rather straightforwardly boiled and then seasoned. They throw a bit of garlicy, peppery sauce on top and then we’re done. When done right, the outside of the octopus is crisp while the inside is mealy but juicy. The potatoes fill out the bite and hold the intense flavors of the sauce. It’s pretty delightful, but we can do better.
Furthermore, I’m going to be offering three, exceptionally delicious versions of my improved dish. The first dials in flavors and textures to perfection but is somewhat more challenging. The second, an Easy Preparation, offers not only relatively uncomplicated technique and shorter preparation times to the less experienced cook but is also a bit healthier. The final version is a Vegetarian Preparation for those who prefer it and is also the healthiest version of the three.
Comparing and contrasting the differences among the three preparation methods can also be informative. I, of course, recommend trying all three!
Have a question? Ask me anything!
Ingredients – Four Servings
1 kg (about 4 small or about 35 oz) octopus, beak removed, no head
1 kg (3 medium or about 35 oz) russet potatoes, cut into 2 cm cubes, skins on
500 g (500 mL or about 2 cups) kombu dashi
15 g (about 0.5 cups loosely packed flakes) katsuobushi
20 g (about 1 tbsp plus a dash) light soy sauce
15 g (about 1 tbsp) mirin
70 g (60 mL or about 2 fl oz) dry white wine
15 g (about 1 tbsp) butter
100 g (about 60 mL or 2 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
100 g (about 14 to 16 cloves) garlic, diced
4 g (about 1 heaping tbsp) crushed cayenne pepper
3 g (about 1 tbsp) crushed aleppo pepper
10 large sprigs fresh thyme
30 g (about 1 tbsp plus a small additional amount for seasoning) kosher salt
10 g (about 1 tbsp) distilled white vinegar
Small wedge of a fresh lemon
60 g (2 medium or about 2 oz) green jalapenos, 0.5 cm dice with seeds and placentas removed
3 large sprigs cilantro, leaves only
4 medium green onions, thinly sliced
Easy Preparation Modifications
- Substitute equivalent amount of filtered water for kombu dashi.
- Omit katsuobushi, dry white wine, butter, half of the extra virgin olive oil, about half of the garlic, half of the crushed aleppo pepper, half of the crushed cayenne pepper and seven large sprigs of fresh thyme (using a total of three sprigs).
- Include additional 20 g (30 g or 1 fl oz in total) distilled white vinegar.
- Do not prepare green jalapenos or green onions as described above. Only rough chop them into 2 cm pieces, discarding the jalapeno stem.
Vegetarian Preparation Modifications
- Substitute 500 g (about one package) of momen-dōfu (firm tofu), without liquid and sliced into blocks about 1 cm by 1 cm by 5 cm.
- Omit kombu dashi, katsuobushi, dry white wine, butter, half of the extra virgin olive oil, half of the crushed aleppo pepper, half of the crushed cayenne pepper and seven large sprigs of fresh thyme (using a total of three sprigs).Include additional 20 g (30 g or 1 fl oz in total) distilled white vinegar.
- Do not prepare green jalapenos or green onions as described above. Only rough chop them into 2 cm pieces, discarding the jalapeno stem.
Extra virgin olive oil is infused with flavor and heat from garlic, aleppo and cayenne peppers. This might seem like an unusual way to infuse oil—in the oven as opposed to on the stove—but this is basically a very precise method of achieving our goal. On the stove, we have a much greater risk of unevenly cooking our garlic due to variations in the surface temperature of our pan. In the oven, this is much less of an issue and we can achieve much more evenly cooked–and extracted–garlic and peppers. Consistency is key here. For more on the science of garlic, ready my Guide to Garlic.
- Preheat oven to 150 °C (302 °F). Combine half of the garlic and all of the olive oil in a small, oven safe ramekin and ensure the garlic is entirely submerged in the oil. If required to fully submerge garlic, add a small amount of additional oil. When the oven is at temperature, add the ramekin to the oven. When the garlic is at a steady fry in the oil, about 10 minutes, add half of the crushed cayenne pepper (2 g or about 2 tsp) and one-third of the aleppo pepper (about 1 tsp), carefully stirring to fully integrate. For Easy Preparation and Vegetarian Preparation, add all of the crushed cayenne pepper and aleppo pepper.
- Continue to fry in the oven until the oil has tinged to a red-brown color, about 10 additional minutes. Separate the garlic and pepper flakes from the oil with a metal strainer, reserving each.
Poaching Liquid (Not Required for Vegetarian Version)
We’re making a flavored poaching liquid, rich in umami, garlic and pepper flavor, to help build depth into our octopus without sacrificing texture or juicy flavor. We retain the garlic and pepper here to flavor the hot sauce in the Easy and Vegetarian Preparations while retaining some of the poaching liquid for the sauce in the Normal Preparation.
- Pour the prepared kombu dashi into a large saucepan (skip to next step for Easy Preparation). At medium heat, raise the temperature of the liquid to 75 °C (167 °F). Be careful to avoid bringing it to a boil. Add katsuobushi flakes and continue to steep at 75 °C until flakes sink to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. After flakes sink, strain through a fine mesh strainer (such as a chinois) or a sarashi cloth.
- Pour the completed dashi (or filtered water for Easy Preparation) into a large saucepan and bring to a medium simmer over high heat. Add light soy sauce and mirin, stirring to integrate. Reduce flame to medium and add half of the garlic, half of the crushed cayenne pepper (2 g or about 2 tsp) and two-thirds of the aleppo pepper (2 g or about 2 tsp). Simmer lightly until liquid is a red-brown color and takes on a mild to moderate flavor of the peppers and heat, about 20 minutes.
- With a mesh strainer, separate the garlic and peppers from the poaching liquid and set 60 g (or 60 mL or 2 fl oz) of liquid aside, discarding remainder. For Easy Preparation, also set aside strained crushed peppers and garlic. For Normal Preparation, discard crushed peppers and garlic.
The Normal Preparation sauce below is rich, deeply flavored, piquante and acidic and beautifully compliments the octopus. The hot sauce for the Easy and Vegetarian Preparations is an extremely quick and easy add-on to make, and is based on my hot sauce quick guide. It is also very delicious, but not nearly as perfect as the Normal Preparation sauce, by my view. I recommend trying both and seeing which you prefer. Although I recommend using the hot sauce below since the flavors are simple and compliment the octopus well, I encourage you to make substitutions with the ratios suggested under my quick guide.
- For Normal Preparation, cut the butter into small, 1 cm sized chunks. Add butter to a pan over medium heat and stir to melt more quickly and evenly. The butter will start to sizzle; continue to stir. If the butter begins to turn strikingly brown, reduce the flame slightly. Continue to stir until sizzling subsides.
- Add half of the infused oil and stir to integrate. Increase flame to medium-high and heat until the surface of the oil reaches about 200 °C (392 °F). Add the remaining crushed pepper, reserved poaching liquid and wine. Bring to a medium simmer, stirring constantly, until the smell of alcohol reduces substantially and the liquid reduces, about five minutes. Set aside.For Easy Preparation and Vegetarian Preparation, combine the jalapeno, green onion and the garlic and pepper mixture from the poaching liquid with the vinegar in a blender. Blend until smooth. Add a dash of soy sauce and a pinch of salt and pulse blender to integrate. Set aside.
Here, I use a method of boiling the potatoes first that creates a microscopic porous and lacey layer of potato flesh and starches that maximizes the surface area of the potato, increasing the amount of crisping area. More crisping area means crispier, more satisfying potatoes. The vinegar in the Normal Preparation helps this process along by breaking down some of the proteins in the potato as well, but also adds a satisfying vinegar flavor. I drop the vinegar from the Easy and Vegetarian Preparations since those are already accompanied by a vinegar-based hot sauce, in addition to making the potatoes slightly easier to handle.
- Pour 1 L (about 34 oz) of cold tap water into a large saucepan. Add the vinegar and salt, stirring to dissolve. Omit the vinegar for Easy and Vegetarian Preparations. Add the potatoes and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Maintain a medium simmer until potatoes are very tender and the edges appear slightly lacey as the potatoes break down, about five to seven minutes. Remove potatoes and set aside. Discard liquid.
- Preheat oven to 250 °C (482 °F). Grease a quarter baking sheet with the infused oil. In a large bowl, coat the cubed potatoes with half the infused oil. With a large spoon, toss the potatoes and oil until the edges and corners of the potatoes erode slightly. Lacey bits of potato should mix with the oil, making the oil cloudy and somewhat pastey. Arrange the potatoes in a single, even layer on the baking sheet and pour all of infused oil mixture evenly atop the potatoes. Arrange three of the thyme sprigs across the surface of the potatoes.
- Place on the middle rack and roast until the tops are crisp and golden brown, about 15 minutes. With a fish spatula or other thin metal spatula, flip the potatoes and bake until the final side is crisp and golden brown, another 10 minutes.
- Remove from the baking pan and toss with a little salt and plate.
Octopus (Not Required for Vegetarian Preparation)
I use a two step process to cook the octopus which includes poaching and then grilling. By first poaching, the octopus retains juices and tenderizes through delicate, slower cooking when compared to a straight grilling or frying, which is a far more quick, less moist method of cooking. The initial dipping of the tentacles into the poaching liquid is a Japanese technique for the purpose of better retaining a delicate curl, as opposed to a less eater-friendly and inconsistent tight spiral form.
The grilling for the Normal Preparation is done atop sprigs of thyme, whose smoke will beautifully infuse into the octopus. Given that this is a delicate procedure that may require dealing with messy flare ups and constant attention, I don’t recommend this technique in the Easy Preparation.
- In a clean, large saucepan, bring the poaching liquid to a temperature of 85 °C (185 °F) over low heat. One at a time with cooking chopsticks or tongs, grasp each octopus at the base of where the tentacles converge so that the tips hang down. Gently run each through the hot poaching liquid, moving the octopus around the base of the pan for about five seconds and remove. Repeat two more times.
- After all the octopus has been poached, add all of them to the saucepan such that they are not touching. If necessary, add a little additional filtered water to ensure octopuses are entirely submerged. Bring to a light simmer over low heat and cook until octopuses are just tender, about 10 minutes.
- Slice each octopus to separate into eight tentacles.
- Heat a flat top grill or cast iron skillet to 300 °C (572 °F). You should be able to hold your hand for no longer than five seconds at about 10 cm (4 inches) from the grill at this temperature. Coat each octopus tentacle with the infused oil. Arrange the remaining thyme sprigs on the grill and place the octopus tentacles on top of the thyme sprigs. For Easy Preparation, omit the thyme sprigs. Grill until very tender, about five minutes. While grilling, turn each tentacle frequently and to all sides such that they acquire only a little bit of char and brown well. Also, monitor the thyme sprigs and the level of char on the leaves and stems. Too much char and the aroma will turn from a pleasant herbal smoke to a more caustic odor. If a thyme sprig no longer produces pleasant smoke, remove from the grill and discard.
- After grilling is complete, discard any remaining thyme, recoat the tentacles with infused oil, sprinkle with a little salt and plate over the potatoes. Spoon a bit of sauce over the octopus and put remaining sauce in a small bowl for dipping. Top with jalapeno, green onion and cilantro (or just with cilantro only in Easy Preparation) and serve.
Momen-Dōfu (Required Only for Vegetarian Preparation)
The momen-dōfu is somewhat delicate so handle with care when cutting, marinating and grilling to retain the shape. The goal here is basically to add some coloration and deeper flavor through concentration through cooking out some of the water while basically heating the momen-dōfu through fully.
- Mix the soy sauce and mirin in a small bowl. Arrange the momen-dōfu in pile in a large bowl and pour over the soy sauce and mirin. With your hands, carefully toss the momen-dōfu in the mixture until well-coated. Drain and coat with the infused oil.
- Heat a flat top grill or cast iron skillet to 225 °C (437 °F). At this temperature, you should be able to hold your hand for an extended period of time at about 10 cm (4 inches) above the grill surface. Grill the tofu in a single layer until lightly browned on each of its four sides, about one minute on the first side and 30 seconds on each of the remaining sides.
- After grilling is complete, recoat the momen-dōfu with infused oil and plate over the potatoes. Spoon a bit of sauce over the tofu and put remaining sauce in a small bowl for dipping. Top with cilantro and serve.