I grew up in a Texas town of about 3,000 people. As you can imagine, my culinary base was built on biscuits, gravy, and steak. The most exotic thing I ate growing up was Patio Frozen Enchiladas. No joke. Our town was so small that I didn’t eat in a restaurant until I was around 12 years old.
Once I discovered there was more to food than my Granny’s amazing fried potatoes, I thought I was pretty food savvy. Then I went to Spain.
The menus in tapas bars and restaurants were filled with “exotic” food I never dreamed that people actually ate. Lamb (you eat baby animals?), blood sausage (ewwww…), live urchins (are you kidding me?), and octopus!
And here’s how things have changed. Two days before New Year’s Eve our friend Salli called. “You guys free on New Year’s by any chance?” The sad reality is that we were having a serious debate about whether to go to a standing party where we barely know the people, or passing a fun-filled night re-watching Guardians of the Galaxy.
“Um, well, we’re undecided,” I replied.
“Juan is dying to try his hand at Pulpo Gallega. You guys want to come over?”
Pulpo = Octopus in Spanish. A few years ago you couldn’t chase me fast enough to get me to even taste it. Now it’s one of my favorite things. So without consulting the other half of the company, I shot back “YEAH! I’ll make something else for Al to eat!”
Our little dinner get-together soon turned into a Pulpo Party and then we were 8, all fascinated watching Juan “scare” the octopus by dunking (only the tentacles!) into boiling water before submerging it to finish cooking.
How’d it come out, you ask? Well, let’s just say we’re all very happy that there were plenty of other tapas to share. Actually it wasn’t that bad, and it was just good enough to start me on another mission. I have to find octopus that’s big enough for this particular cooking method.
If you happen to have access to frozen Pulpo (yes, believe it or not, freezing makes them better for cooking), you may want to give this Northern Spanish recipe a try. It’s really really tasty, and your more adventurous friends will thank you for introducing them to a new treat.
- 4 - 5 pound Octopus -- cleaned and frozen
- ½ Onion (optional)
- 3 Medium potatoes -- peeled and whole
- Bay Leaf - 1 large or 2 small
- Coarse Sea Salt
- Smoked Spanish Paprika (Pimenton)
- Plenty of high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- For most of us in the U.S. Octopus will come cleaned and frozen. If not, be sure and clean it well, and freeze it for at least a day or two before cooking. Freezing is important to the final texture of the dish.
- Defrost the octopus fully.
- Put a large pot of water on to boil. Be sure there's enough room for the octopus to be fully submerged in water. Add sliced onion and bay leaf (this is optional, some cooks do it, some don't). Don't salt the water!
- While the water is coming to a boil, peel the potatoes (leave them whole).
- When the water is at a full boil, you're going to "scare" the pulpo. Holding the pulpo by the head, dip the tentacles into the water, hold for a couple of seconds and pull it up out of the water. Repeat this until you've dipped and lifted the pulpo out 3 times. Then submerge the pulpo into the boiling water. Keep the water boiling the whole time. As soon as the pulpo is in the water, add the peeled potatoes. Cook at a rapid boil until the potatoes are done, about 20 - 30 minutes.
- The pulpo should be quite tender, so test with a sharp skewer or something similar and take the pulpo out of the water if it begins to get a bit tough. Remove the pulpo from the water first and set aside to cool.
- Remove the cooked potatoes from the water and slice into thick slices. Arrange the potatoes on a wooden or other plate. Then cut the pulpo into as even as possible bite-size pieces and arrange on top of the potatoes. Taste the pulpo for salt and only sprinkle with salt if needed. Then sprinkle the potatoes and pulpo generously with smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton).
- Finally, drizzle the potatoes and pulpo very generously with high quality extra virgin olive oil and serve at room temp or slightly warm.
- IMPORTANT! If you can only find a small pulpo, such as 1 pound, follow this same recipe except the pulpo should only cook for about 10 minutes, so you can wait until the pulpo is cooked, and then while it cools you can add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook them separately.