(OK, Finny, if you are reading this, it is NOT for you. We’re talking fresh-out-of-the-sea, wobbly, squiggly, suckery, floppy, tentacle-y, eight-leggedy edibleness. That said, it does not have a fishy taste at all, so I’m thinking you might actually like it—assuming you were, say, blindfolded—but I’m not holding my breath. I know what you’re muttering to yourself already.)
Yes, here he (or she—how on earth do you determine the sex of an octopus?) is, fresh out of his—or her—clean, white, paper wrapping from the fishmonger. I rarely buy anything without asking advice about how to cook it. Even if I know, it’s always fun to hear another person’s take. With Octopussy, the advice was as follows:
Place 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 stick of celery and one dried peperoncino in a large pot of water, along with a spoon of sea salt tossed in for good measure. When the water has just started appena appena to boil with the first tiny bubbles rising from the bottom of the pan, take your cleaned polipo and dip him/her three times into the hot water, while muttering, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” No wait, that’s the wrong ritual. Just dip three times, muttering nothing, then let the squiggly creature fall unceremoniously into the boiling water for 40 minutes of cooking.
(Do you see that head sac? It’s been turned inside out with cleaning. To do the ritual dipping, you just place the head of the octopus on the end of your wooden spoon and let it dangle—1, 2, 3 times—into the water. You can see in the second of these last two pictures how, just after the three dips, the octopus has begun to change color and become firm. The tentacles, at first so slimy and formless, spiral into lovely concentric curls.)
Don’t let the water boil hard, but rather encourage it to stay at a persistent simmer for 40 minutes. At the end of that time, turn off the burner, cover the pot and let the octopus sit in his water until he/she, the water and the pot have cooled considerably. The fishmonger explained to me that in the best of all scenarios, I would do as the restaurants do, cook the little sea monster at night, and leave him in the water ’til morning—a method which supposedly renders the tenderest bites possible. I didn’t have that much time. I cooked mine after lunch and we had it for dinner, and I have to say, already, it was super—to the eighth power—yummy.
I served mine with lentils, but classic preparations include a tepid salad of octopus and boiled potatoes (tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and perhaps finely chopped parsley if you like)—my favorite in assoluto, or served over a purée of chick peas. If you are interested in either of these recipes, I will be happy to find them for you! But, believe me, if you take the cooked octopus, slice it, and dress it simply with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt, it will not disappoint. It’s tender, almost sweet—utterly delectable. Promise.