The popularity of octopus may be fledgling in the U.S., but in countries like Japan and Greece, the octopus has long held a position of seafood glory primarily for its texture. Our writer Jason Kessler contends that we are entering the golden age of sorts.
Give your salad repetoire an upgrade with this octopus-centered recipe. Cherry tomatoes and a watercress vinaigrette execentuate the freshness of the seafood and cannellini beans lend a boost of flavor. If you have trouble finding an octopus in your regular market, head to an Asian supermarket where they’re more readily available.
- 1 whole octopus (about 3.5-4.5 lbs)
- 1 pint fresh, shelled cannellini beans
- 1 small yellow onion
- 1 rib celery
- 1 small carrot
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, assorted colors if possible
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon rosemary, very finely chopped
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/2 pound butter, cubed and at room temperature
- 4 bunches watercress
- 2 cups spinach
- lemon juice
- extra virgin olive oil
- sherry vinegar
- Bring a large pot of water with a lid to a boil over high heat. Place the octopus in a large bowl in the sink and rinse under running water until the water in the bowl is clear and the octopus skin feels clean, with no traces of grit. Transfer the octopus to a cutting board and cut the tentacles from the body, being sure to trim as closely to the body as possible for maximum yield.
- When the water is at a rolling boil, add the tentacles and give a gentle stir; the tentacles will curl up separately. Keep the heat on high and allow the pot to return to a gentle simmer; when this happens, place the lid on top, but slightly ajar.
- Cook the octopus in this manner, maintaining a simmer, for one hour. After one hour, turn the heat off, cover the pot securely with the lid, and let stand for one more hour.
- Carefully transfer the tentacles to a parchment lined sheet tray and put in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight to allow to set firm (this will help create nice slices). When chilled completely, slice the tentacles on a slight bias into about ½ - ¾ inch thick coins. Set aside until ready to assemble dish.
- Slice the onion, celery and peeled carrot into ½ inch slices. Heat a 4 quart saucepot over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil; cook the sliced vegetables until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add the cannelloni beans, stir to coat with the oil, then cover by 3 inches with cold water.
- Allow the water to come up to a simmer and turn the heat down to maintain and bare simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, about 20-40 minutes depending on the age and size of the bean. When the beans are almost done, season the liquid with salt to taste- not enough and the beans will be bland, too much and they will be salty.
- When tender, remove the beans from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature in the liquid, or transfer everything to a container and allow to cool in the refrigerator (note: the beans can be made several days ahead, refrigerated and strained when ready to cook).
- Heat a 2-3 quart saucepot, or double boiler, with 1 inch of water over medium heat. Find a metal bowl that will fit into the saucepot without touching the water and with only a few inches of overhang on the sides.
- Place the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons water in the bowl and whisk vigorously; once it has come to a simmer, place the bowl over the pot of water and continuously whisk. Cook until the yolks are thick and creamy and reach a temperature of 140˚F, but be careful not to curdle them.
- Once consistency is achieved, add the cubes of butter one at a time; make sure the sauce stays warm to the touch or it will break. When all of the butter is added, season to taste with lemon juice and salt — you now have a hollandaise sauce.
- Pass the sauce through a fine strainer and keep in a warm place: setting the container into a warm water bath on your stovetop is ideal. The sauce will hold for an hour.
- Bring a large pot of seasoned water to a boil over high heat. Coarsely chop 2 bunches of watercress and add, along with the spinach, to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Strain the greens and immediately plunge into an ice water bath.
- When chilled, strain and squeeze the greens well. Place the greens in a blender with ¾ cup olive oil and blend for about 30 seconds until smooth.
- Transfer this mixture to a bowl set over another bowl of ice and stir until cold; the oil will “break” and create a visually appealing sauce of green oil and thick watercress puree. Set aside until ready to compose the dish.
- Pick and wash the remaining two bunches of watercress. Wash and halve, or quarter depending on size, the cherry tomatoes. Remove the center rib from the mint leaves, cutting them in half lengthwise, then cut across the leaves to produce roughly square tiles of mint, about ¼ inch square.
- Strain the cooked cannellinis and add to a saucepot with the chopped rosemary. Heat over medium-low heat and when the beans are warm, stir in hollandaise to sauce the beans and create a creamy consistency. Place the watercress, cherry tomatoes and mint in a bowl and season with sherry vinegar, salt and olive oil.
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat (or two if you cannot fit all of the octopus in one pan in a single, uncrowded layer).
- Add a tablespoon of oil (just enough to thinly film the entire pan) and when it begins to smoke, add the octopus in a single layer so that the pieces do not touch. Season the octopus evenly with salt.
- Cook for about 20-30 seconds, or until an even, golden crust develops on one side. Flip the octopus over and cook briefly on the second side to heat through. Transfer to a tray lined with a paper towel.
- On six serving plates, spread a spoonful of the watercress mixture into a circle. Place a spoonful of the beans, then some watercress salad, then half of the octopus. Repeat: beans, watercress, octopus again to finish the layered salad. Serve immediately.