MINA is located across the river from Mercado de Ribera. You could literally walk out of the restaurant, throw a stone and hit the market.
Each morning the market folks lug their goods – fish, eggs, meats, poultry, vegetables, fruits – right into the kitchen. The life and journey of every product we serve can be traced back in just a couple of steps. Some vendors like to drop and run, presumably to rush off to make more deliveries. Others like to linger … like Andrés, who brings us fresh tuna, sea bass, crabs, prawns, mussels and squid. Andrés likes to chat. And when it comes to cooking, so do I. This gives me full license to pepper him with my sea creature questions, like today’s theme – how to cook an octopus.
Andrés tells me (and I haven’t even googled this, so take it as you’d take any health advice from a friendly old fisherman) that octopus is the healthiest of foods. It’s high in protein and low in fat. “But what about that thick, fatty circle around each tentacle?” I ask him. “That’s not fat, that’s ‘gelatina’” he answers. Still, unconfirmed and I’m not sure what’s the difference between fat and gelatine, but yup, I’ll take it.
The key to cooking the octopus, according to Andrés, is breaking the fibers of the octopus flesh. Historically, this process started when an octopus would be slammed against a rock after being caught. Freezing the octopus also breaks the fibers. So don’t fear the frozen ‘pus. That sounds awful. Basically, don’t assume that an octopus that you buy frozen has been preserved for years – it may be super fresh but the freezing in intended to assist you in the cooking process. Another way, and the method of choice for Jiro, is to massage the raw octopus for 45 minutes …
A fourth approach to breaking the fibers, and how I’m cooking octopus today, is to “scare” the thing three times in boiling water. That means submerging the octopus briefly in boiling water and then removing the octopus and allowing it to cool, again, briefly. The third time, you leave the octopus in the water until it’s cooked. This method is used for cooking octopus the Galician way, or “pulpo gallego,” also called “pulpo a feira” in Galicia. Once cooked, the octopus tentacles are chop and served on a (traditionally, wooden) plate with potatoes and finished with olive oil, course salt and paprika. The only Yankee update I’m doing is substituting sweet potatoes for white potatoes, and finishing with a little color – chopped chive. Cocinamos!
- Put the whole octopus into a large pot and cover with water. If you happen to have a copper pot, use it! That’s the traditional way to cook octopus in Galicia. If not, throw a penny into the water or move to the next step.
- Heat pot on stove top and when water boils (a ROLLING boil), remove octopus, allow to cool for a minute and then submerge in boiling water again, after a minute repeat the remove, cool, submerge process.
- Leave octopus in boiling water for 20 minutes, or until you can poke a tooth pick into a tentacle and it comes out clean.
- Remove octopus from boiling water and allow to cool a bit – using a scissor, cut off tentacles then cut across the width of each tentacle into small, bitesize pieces.
- Serve with boiled sweet (or white) potatoes, good extra virgin olive oil (try one from Andalucia, where the best olive oil is produced), paprika, course sea salt and chopped chives.