If you’ve ever tried to cook an octopus, you know it’s no small feat to achieve that perfect texture. I’ve listened carefully to all the lore about the best way to cook octopus: slam it against a rock after catching it from the sea – gee, thanks, probably won’t be doing that anytime soon; “shock” the octopus by submerging it in boiling water three times and removing to a cool water bath before letting it boil until finished – did that too and turned the lovely, slender arms into tough, rubbery bits.
I remember the first time I met octopus. I, dressed in my best Madrid vintage shop finds and aggressively straight bangs, was out for dinner with Spanish friends at a busy Galicean restaurant called Maceira on Calle de las Huertas. We drank cold Albariño from shallow bowls and chatted over plates of pimientos de padrón and croquetas de bacalao. Then the octopus, Pulpo Maceira, arrived, on a wooden plate, glistening, sprinkled with paprika and coarse salt, accompanied by potatoes. I loved you, octopus, at first bite. Next thing I remember you were gone and we were soaking up the fragrant olive oil with hunks of crusty bread.
I had a gorgeous lunch at Virginia’s the other day. After duck rillette with satsuma marmalade and beet salad with green goddess dressing and crunchy beet crisps, my old flame arrived: Spanish octopus. It was grilled to perfection and served with the usual suspects: new potatoes and chorizo. I fell in love all over again.
Why is octopus so hard to cook?
I don’t think it’s hard to cook — you just need to have a game plan from the beginning. You have two options: cook the octopus for a very short amount of time, like we do at Virginia’s, or braise low and slow for two hours until tender.
Tell me about coming up with the flavor combination for this dish.
The flavor profile for this dish is really classic Spanish. I kept it very approachable, trying to layer straight-forward flavors and textures.
Have you traveled to Spain?
I have never been to Spain though I’d love to go. I have a rather large cookbook collection and am always reading and writing notes to help me remember certain flavors I like.
Can you give a few tips for grilling octopus and achieving good texture?
At Virginia’s, we grill with a Japanese konro grill that burns very, very hot. This helps to create a nice char on the outside while keeping the inside tender and juicy. If you can’t get your hands on a konro grill, a very hot cast iron pan works great too.
Any oil for the grill or pan?
We add a little Spanish olive oil and salt before grilling. I am a huge fan of butter, but in this case the grill is so hot it would just burn.