Tender Grilled Octopus with a Mint Yogurt Dipping Sauce
It is not everyone's favourite, but octopus is something I get pretty excited about. In addition to tasting very nice, it presents a bit of a culinary challenge. First, there is finding an octopus, then there is handling and cleaning the octopus, then there is figuring out a way to cook the octopus that will transform its shoe-rubber texture...
The Qatar fish market is somewhere I have been meaning to go for a while now but had been deferring due to 40+˚C temperatures (and, in particular, the likely olfactory consequences of these). Early October now, the weather back into the (mild?) mid-30s, and an octopus to find, it seemed like the time was finally right so Friday morning, with little idea what to expect, off I went.
First, just to get it out of the way, I have to say, the smell was still pretty overwhelming. But you do adjust to this, kind of, and once you do, the seafood is impressive – crabs, slipper lobsters, grouper (hammour), a worrying number of little baby sharks, cuttlefish galore, box after box of squid, but not a single octopus! Hmmm... dejectedly back to the supermarket in the hope that their comparatively meagre selection might yield up what I was after.
So, Spain is where the octopus are apparently. Or at least that is where my supermarket octopus hailed from in the end (which I feel bad about), one more thing to add to the very long list of imported foods on which desert-living relies.
So, to challenge 2) cleaning, which, while gory, is also easily resolved. Cut a slit in the centre underside of the octopus and remove the beak, as well as the hard cartilaginous ball inside, along with any other remaining head contents not already removed by your fishmonger.
These hurdles conquered, on to the actual recipe. I hope you'll agree that it's worth all the effort...
- 1 octopus – 600-800g, cleaned as described above
- 500mls white wine
- 1 litre of water
- 5 cloves garlic
- Handful of thyme
- A few sprigs of rosemary
- Sprinkle of dried oregano
- Salt & pepper
- Olive oil for grilling and drizzling
For the yogurt dipping sauce (Cacik)
- 200g thick Greek yogurt
- 2 Lebanese cucumbers – finely grated
- Small handful of mint leaves
- Small handful of dill
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt & pepper
Start by mixing the water and wine, bringing these to a boil in a very large saucepan. Using the back of a large knife, bruise each garlic clove slightly. Add the garlic, as well as the herbs, and a good sprinkle of salt to the pot of boiling liquid. Place the octopus in the pot, and wait for the liquid to come back to the boil. Cook for 5 minutes, before turning the heat down to the lowest possible setting.
Simmer slowly for 2½ hours to allow the octopus to reach optimum tenderness. If your octopus is on the small side though, do adjust this down a little as too much cooking and chances are it will lose its texture entirely. I recommend monitoring the situation from the 1½ hour mark by removing a small amount of tentacle using scissors and a pair of tongs. On a chopping board, slice the octopus to gauge the texture with a knife. Or if you are OK with tasting a bit of boiled octopus, pop a piece in your mouth – it's the best way to tell!
Remove the octopus from the liquid when cooked and allow to cool before refrigerating for 3 hours. (I don’t know why this helps the texture situation in strict food chemistry terms, but trial and error tells me that it does!).
To make the yogurt sauce, grate the cucumbers into a sieve and sprinkle generously with salt. Position the sieve atop a bowl, and put aside for 30 minutes.
Continue to prepare the sauce by finely chopping the dill and mint. When the cucumber has been draining for 30 minutes, squeeze this by hand to remove as much water as possible. Place the Greek yogurt in a clean bowl and mix through the drained cucumber and chopped herbs. Squeeze in the lemon juice, and olive oil, then mix. Give this a quick taste before seasoning as, depending on how much salt went on the cucumbers, it may not need any more. Put the finished dip in the fridge to thicken.
Finally, heat a large griddle pan (or, even better, a BBQ) to high. Cut the tentacles of the octopus into serving sized pieces, max. 5-6cm long, and sprinkle all over with of olive oil and salt. When hot, place the tentacles onto the griddle, turning as you cook to achieve an all-over char – 10 minutes should be sufficient, but feel free to blacken to your particular taste.
To serve, arrange artfully; drizzle with olive oil, and perhaps scatter a little more salt; place some thyme sprigs to garnish, and make sure some cacik yogurt sauce is in easy reach for dipping!