Says who knows that the octopus from Algarve, that lives a clean and rich in food environment, so it easily feeds on shellfish and small fish, is tastier, heavier and with fatty legs. Thus, from the 300 tonnes of octopus going to auction every day, most, 80 percent, is exported, mainly for Spain. But even Japan has surrendered to its quality and there are already ongoing studies to assess under what conditions it is possible to carry live octopus to the other side of the world. The octopus is only the fourth most captured species, but one that generates more economic value and there are villages, as Santa Luzia, also called the octopus capital, where all the inhabitants depend directly or indirectly on this activity.
I remembered this article when I was preparing this baked octopus, which I decided to accompany with a creamy polenta on the side, for a change. In general, whatever the recipe, the octopus should always be boiled first and the great challenge that we all face is how to ensure that we serve a tender and soft octopus and not a piece of rubber.
There are many theories on this subject, some stranger than others. The only care I have, and that hasn’t failed me until today, is to buy frozen octopus. If buying fresh octopus, then you should freeze it first. When ready to cook, move it to the refrigerator on the day before to thaw.
In the recipe below I say to start by dipping the octopus three times into the boiling water. This improves presentation by keeping the skin and curling the legs’ ends. It is also one of the techniques that is sometimes mentioned as making the octopus tender. I cannot confirm because, as I said, I buy it frozen, but I guess it won’t do any harm either.
This is one of my favorite ways to cook octopus. First boiled in water, without salt and adding a bay leaf, then moving it to the oven, where it cooks for a few minutes seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. This time I added a creamy and buttery polenta instead of the usual boiled potatoes. I think it makes a great Sunday lunch in one of these autumn months.
Do you have any tricks or advices on how to cook octopus perfectly?
Baked octopus with creamy polenta
This is one of my favorite ways to cook octopus. First boiled in water, without salt and adding a bay leaf, then moving it to the oven, where it cooks for a few minutes seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Span>
- 1 octopus (approximately 1,5 kg)
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Chopped parsley, to serve
To make the polenta:
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup coarse cornmeal
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- You can buy the octopus fresh or frozen. If you choose the former freeze it first, before cooking, this way it will be easier to get a tender octopus. So the first thing to do is to thaw the octopus and the best way to do that is to leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
- Put a large pot with water and a bay leaf over high heat and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, hold the octopus by the head and dip it for 10 seconds. Repeat this operation two more times. It will help to keep the skin and curl the legs’ ends, which is prettier. Let it cook for 40 minutes. This time is indicative and depends on the size of the octopus that you are cooking, which can be bigger or smaller than this one. To check if the octopus is cooked, prick with a fork in the thickest part of the leg (close to the head), it should enter without resistance.
- Preheat the oven to 180º C.
- Start making the polenta while the octopus is cooking. Put the water in a saucepan over high heat. Add the cornmeal while stirring (the water doesn’t need to be boiling).
- Let it cook, stirring frequently. Once the polenta begins to thicken and “spit”, lower the heat. Cook for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, being careful not to let it stick to the bottom of the pan.
- When the octopus is cooked, take it from the water and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with the sliced garlic, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
- Once the polenta is ready, season with salt and add the butter. If the polenta is too dry or start to set, add some water and stir vigorously with a whisk to incorporate well and break some lumps that may arise.
- Take the octopus from the oven, split the legs and the head and serve immediately with the polenta and chopped parsley.
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