Recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s Grilled Octopus
Famous writer and gourmand Alexandre Dumas considered cephalopods like the octopus or cuttlefish to be “the highest-ranking mollusks.” In his Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, he marvels over how such unlikely bodies provide such succulent meat: “Imagine,” he says, “a muscular sack, thick, soft, viscous, spherical in some varieties, cylindrical or tube-shaped in others, with colors that change like a chameleon’s…on top of this a round head with two huge eyes, situated laterally, between which protrudes a little tube that represents not a nose, but the anus (in the middle of the face)! On top of everything and in the middle of this head put a mouth composed of circular lips, armed with two horny vertical jaws (a veritable parrot’s beak) and furnished with a tongue covered with spikes. Finally, all around this mouth, plant a crown of fleshy, supple, vigorous, retractile appendages covered with suction disks” (85-86).
I guess I never thought about the octopus in quite those terms before. But Dumas has a point when he credits them with being one of the “highest-ranking mollusks.” Not only are they a sustainable seafood choice, helping relieve the pressure put on aqua culture by climate change and overfishing, but they’re also delicious, and with just a little prep work, they can be the memorable and unique star of your barbecue. The key is not to overcook them. In this recipe, they are first cooked very gently for 30-90 minutes at a bare simmer, and then quickly finished off on the grill to give them that tender but toothsome texture you’re looking for in a cephalopod. If you do the slow, low cook ahead of time, you can just whip these tentacled beauties out when you’re ready to grill and swiftly serve up some citrus-kissed seafood with a hint of smoke that’ll really wow your guests.
3 lbs cleaned octopus (a large octopus, rather than multiple small ones, is preferable)
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs of thyme
1 tsp salt
1 head of garlic, sliced horizontally so that all the cloves are cut open
3 TBSP olive oil
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Add the octopus, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, salt, garlic, and 1 lemon, sliced in half, to a stock pot and cover with cold water. Cover and heat over medium, just until the water is boiling, then lower to a bare simmer (that’s a 2 on the dial on my stove). Simmer, checking to make sure the heat isn’t too high, for 30-90 minutes, until the octopus is firm but tender when poked with a knife tip. Remove the octopus with tongs; cover and refrigerate until ready to grill. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid for stock to use at another time (waste nothing!).
Heat your grill to high, with the grill rack about 4 inches from the heat source (if adjustable). Cut the octopus into large serving pieces (unless you’re working with multiple small octopi, in which case keep them whole for now), brush with some olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the octopus for a couple minutes, turning a few times, so that the outside gets brown but the meat doesn’t dry out.
Brush the grilled octopus with the remaining oil. If you are working with multiple small octopi, go ahead and cut them into serving pieces now, or you can opt to leave them whole. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with the remaining lemons cut into wedges. These are good right off the grill or at room temperature. If you want to be really fancy, you can serve it at room temperature over a salad of arugula dressed with lemon vinaigrette, capers, olives, and pickled celery.