This dish, like so many of my dishes, is inspired by the verdant and bewitched land of Galicia, the northwest province of Spain. The streets of coastal Galicia, from cities, like A Coruña and Santiago de Compostela, to small towns, like Ribadeo, are filled with pulperías, or octopus restaurants. These cephalopods are caught in the rías, the canals that flow through the land into the Cantabrian Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
Here in Seattle, octopus isn’t as popular. Even though our own ocean-connected water, the Puget Sound, harbors some of the largest octopuses in the world, they are only really served at the Asian restaurants and, occasionally, at more mainstream restaurants like Coastal Kitchen or Golden Beetle. Commercial octopuses here come from Japan, the Philippines or China. Only by accident do fishmongers have Puget Sound octopus. Because they are a protected species, they can only legally be sold if caught by accident; that is, if they get mixed up with other fish being caught. But that is so rare.
My grandfather, decades ago, got caught in a tangle with an 8-foot octopus while diving. Somehow he lugged it home and had a cauldron large enough to fit it. He hacked it up and cooked it over a fire in the backyard. He had no idea what he was doing. Nobody but him ended up having the wherewithal to chew the tough meat, but the spectacle has remained with my family ever since.
I assure you that cooking octopus is very easy. When done properly, the meat comes out so tender it almost dissolves with a few bites. In my opinion, it is one of the sweetest seafoods around. Plus, the radiant purple the meat turns is unparalleled visually. This broth is no exception.
The octopus I made originally went into empanadas. However, I suggest cutting the pieces up and returning it to the broth once it’s done. I made this broth one morning because I was feeling ill with sinus irritation and lethargy. As soon as I finished my bowl, I felt refreshed, clear-headed and joyous. May it carry its uplifting spirit to you, too.
For the Octopus
- 1 small octopus (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
- 1 1/2 gallon water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pinch of peppercorns
- 1 glug of Albariño (or white wine)
Bring the Octopus to Life
If you have a frozen octopus, defrost it. In fact, frozen octopus is preferable. Freezing the octopus tenderizes the meat. If your octopus was not frozen, then you have to throw it around the sink to really wake it up.
Return the Octopus to the Depths
Once the octopus is thawed, soak it in saltwater. You can use filtered sea water or just mix some water and salt together. Let the octopus sit in there for a couple hours, at least. The salt will help make tender meat later. But I like to think that it’s a way of getting the octopus comfortable for the voyage ahead.
Get the Octopus Drunk
Bring the water to a boil. Remove the octopus from the brine. Rinse it off. When the water is rolling, dip the legs into it for about 4-5 seconds. Remove. Repeat two more times. The legs will curl. Finally, set the octopus into the water. Drop in the bay leaves and peppercorns. Offer the octopus the wine. Reduce the heat. Cover and let the octopus simmer with its booze for about an hour.
A NOTE ON GETTING TENDER OCTOPUS: A very simple way to check the tenderization of the meat is take a snip of one of its arms and try it. When I first began cooking octopus, I did this every 10 minutes, just to see how the meat changes. I have found that about an hour makes the most tender, but sometimes it takes longer, sometimes not as long. Don’t be afraid to let your octopus go 5 minutes more before trying it again. You will be amazed by how much it changes.
For the Broth
- 3/4 cup wild mushrooms, sliced (I used morels, corals, porcinis and oysters — dried wild ones will do just fine here)
- 1/4 cup sea beans, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 3 Tbsp. goose tongue, chopped on the bias
- 2 Tbsp. wood sorrel, torn into small pieces
- 2 Tbsp. garlic greens, sliced thinly on the bias
- 1 chive, sliced thinly on the bias
- 1 chive blossom, picked apart
- 1 squeeze of lemon juice
- 1 glug of Albariño (or white wine)
- Spanish smoked paprika, to taste
- Sea salt, to taste
I used wild vegetables in mine, as, I imagine, is the Galician way. However, you could easily use green onions (sliced on the bias), garlic (shaved), mushrooms (shiitakes or white or oyster; sliced) and parsley (chopped). Instead of the sea beans and goose tongue, use a seaweed (hijiki, kelp or kombu would do well).
Strain the broth. Return it to the pot and bring it back to a boil. Let the broth simmer on a medium-high heat until it’s reduced to 4-6 cups, depending on how much you want. The more you reduce it, the more concentrated the flavors will be.
Add a splash of white wine and the mushrooms. Let those simmer for about five minutes. Then add the garlic greens, chives, sea beans and goose tongue. If you are using green onions, seaweed and garlic, add those now. Let that simmer for five more minutes. Finish with a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of the Spanish paprika. Add sea salt to taste. Stir.
Drop the sorrel into a dry bowl.
If you’re using the octopus, cut it up into small pieces and add. Everything on the octopus is edible. I use everything except the center of the head, which tends to be too tough for me. Ladle the broth into the bowl. Garnish with chive blossom and Spanish paprika. Serve immediately.
The savory mushrooms, the sour lemon and sorrel, the salty vegetables and the sweet Spanish paprike and octopus combine to create a fragrant, distinct and complex flavor that really resembles miso.