Mitsos Taverna, Corfu, Greece - cooked by Agatha, caught by Spiros
Octopus, and the rest of the family of squid, calamari and cuttlefish are sea creatures I would never have eaten as a child in London - I had to wait for the delights of savouring these for travels in Europe - Spain, Italy and then Greece.
These days I know that my holiday has started when we arrive in Athens, settle into our favourite hotel, and then wander up the street to Strofi - a restaurant with a rooftop garden where you can sit, sipping a glass of wine, and watch the sun going down behind the Acropolis. The first thing we order, if it is on the menu, is their octopus salad - a revelation of tender, meaty, lobstery delight - perfection. The shoulders relax, travel fatigue drops away and I begin to enjoy my holiday knowing that there's plenty more of this where that came from.
It's a shame that most people I know would never dream of attempting a dish like this because they think the cleaning is going to be complicated and messy, and the cooking difficult - all not true. Apart from being good for you, as well as delicious to eat - it is cheap. When you look at most seafood around the $25-$30 mark and compare it to squid and octopus at $5-$12 - there's nothing not to love.
What to Buy
For this dish you need the octopus to be large with thick tentacles - the opposite for when you are buying them for chargrilling on the barbecue - then you need small ones.
Fresh octopus should smell sweet with no trace of ammonia. Use it as soon as possible after purchase, certainly within 36 hours, and do not store with the guts intact - the same goes for squid, calamari and cuttlefish.
How to Clean
Simply cut the head off whole - this way you will not disturb the ink sac, and discard it. Cut the octopus in half and pop out the black 'beak' from the middle and discard. Cut the tips off the tentacles and discard. That's it!
Cleaned octopus ready for cooking
How to Cook
1. Place the cleaned octopus in a saucepan and cover with cold water.
2. Add to this one dessertspoon vinegar, a bay leaf and one clove of garlic sliced.
3. Bring to boil and simmer for 20-40 minutes.
4. Us a small sharp knife to check when it is cooked - it should have lost its rubberyness but be firm and tender.
5. Don't over cook or it will turn to mush.
6. Drain straight away
7. As soon as the octopus cools a little rub off the dark skin - the is best done wearing disposable gloves. This is a very simple and quick task. There is no need to remove the suckers.
Cooked octopus - just need to get the rest of the skin off
Preparing the salad
1. Slice the cooled octopus into bite size pieces and place in a serving dish.
2. Cover with olive oil, sliced fresh garlic and sprinkle with dried oregano and thyme. It may need a little salt at this stage.
3. Serve with wedges of lemon, fresh black pepper, sprinkle of parsley and crusty bread.
4. If the octopus is fully submerged in the oil it will keep for a week or so in the fridge.