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Poached Octopus Greek Seafood Salad
Octopus can prove to be a very tricky customer in a cooking and culinary sense. It starts off tough, then turns tender, goes tough again and back to tender, depending upon the cooking method employed and the length of time for which it is cooked. The traditional Greek way of tenderising octopus is to bash it off the rocks on the seashore before it is cleaned and cooked but in the absence of any convenient igneous formations in my kitchen, I had to come up with an alternative. A gentle and very careful pounding (it's not a tough piece of beef steak!) with a meat mallet was the option I chose, followed by close and regular monitoring during cooking.
How to Clean and Prepare an Octopus for Cooking
The octopus used in this recipe was bought precleaned but if the octopus you get a hold of is fresh from the sea, the useful but short video below shows precisely how it should be cleaned. To play the video, click on the arrow in the centre of the screen.
- 1 small octopus
- 2/3 fennel bulb, 1/2 roughly chopped, 1/2 finely sliced
- 2 teaspoons fresh fennel leaves
- 1/2 lemon, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 4 large lettuce leaves, shredded
- 2 inch piece of cucumber, roughly chopped
- 1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
- 2 ounces Greek feta cheese, roughly diced
- 10 to 12 pitted black olives, halved
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Poached Seafood Salad with Octopus Cooking InstructionsClick thumbnail to view full-size
- If you are pounding the octopus with a meat mallet, do so gently and evenly and be sure not to treat it like a piece of tough beef. If you do, you will significantly damage it. Treat it as though hammering in a small tack, rather than a large nail.
- One part of the fennel bulb should be roughly chopped and added to a large pot with the lemon, peppercorns, fennel leaves and plenty sea salt. Add around three pints of cold water and bring to a boil.
- Add the octopus and simmer very gently for half an hour. Note that, "Scaring," the tentacles by dipping them in and out of the water for a few seconds each time is a popular concept but experience has appeared to prove that it is entirely pointless. The tentacles will curl up anyway in the boiling water!
- Simmer the octopus for half an hour and test with the point of a very sharp knife in the centre of the tentacle section. It should be tender but if not, you may have to simmer for a further half hour or so to get the meat tender again. This is why it is so important to monitor the octopus during cooking.
- When the octopus is tender, use a large slotted spoon to remove it from the pot and submerge in a large bowl of iced water to cool it quickly. Remove after five minutes to a plate and cover for about an hour to complete cooling.
- Add the shredded lettuce to the base of a serving dish and top with the tomato, cucumber and sliced remaining fennel. Add the olives and Greek feta cheese, season with sea salt and black pepper and drizzle liberally with extra virgin olive oil.
- Slice the head of the octopus in to rings, cut off the tentacles and slice the central part of the body. Scatter over the salad and top with roughly chopped fresh basil leaves for service.
- Serve with some fresh crusty bread and a small ramekin of extra virgin olive oil for dipping.