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Octopus the gem food of Puglia

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The key to tender Octopus (vs. chewy and tough) is the capture and storage of it. On the coast of Puglia it’s common to see men wacking their specimens on the rocks to tenderize the meat which is the most reliable method. We can’t expect that at the fish market though so the next best thing is to freeze for at least 24 hours to break down the fibers. It’s the only fish I recommend freezing! My husband, spearfishing for fun brings home the freshest of seafood so anything less than fresh is an acceptable in our home.

Octopus must be cleaned, so you may want to ask your fish monger to do it if you’re not into digging around a slimy sea creature. It’s not hard. Just hold the head under running water remove and discard the ink sac, stomach, and eyes. Then use a sharp knife to cut out the beak, which is at the bottom of the head

There are many recipes for boiling and braising octopus, but I usually put it in a pot and cover it with water and a cup of white wine. I add some peppercorns, lemon, and three or 4 cloves of garlic, and then let the mixture slowly simmer. I may throw in a wine cork bit I’m not convinced it does anything but it is an italian wives tale that is suppossed to reultbin tender meat. You can tell when the octopus is tender by piercing it with a sharp knife: if tender, the knife should go in very easily. Cooking times vary depending on the size of the octopus and whether if was frozen, but it usually needs 45 to 90 minutes to become sufficiently tender. The addition of the wine cork is a bit controversial—advocates, like Mario Batali, claim it contains and enzyme that helps tenderize the octopus while it cooks. Since its so easy to add, I often toss it in. Harold McGee offers some contrary evidence.

I love eating it straight out of the pot even a room temperature with a drizzle of evoo, sea salt and a grind of pepper.

It’s also delicious thrown on a grill for 2 minutes to get a smokey, grilled flavor with yummy charred bits to boot. Wood fire is preferred but gas grill works as well.

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