I wish I could tell you that I first ate this grilled octopus while sitting at a seaside bistro in Greece, staring out at a Peloponnesian sunset and knocking back tumblers of ouzo. But I can’t. Sadly, I’ve never been to Greece, although I’ve wanted to go for more than a decade. The Fates seem always to prevent me. Someday.
I can, however, tell you that this Greek-inspired recipe is so wonderful I’d happily feed it to Great Aphrodite, or some mortal facsimile thereof… like Holly, who just so happens to be part Greek. Holly loves octos, and so do I. Enough to post a recipe for a store-bought ingredient. Yes, it’s true. I did not catch these octopi. I bought them at a fish market.
There are any number of methods to tenderize octopus, but over the years I’ve found the best way is to slowly braise them in their own juices, over a bed of mixed herbs. The grilling part only adds some char and scorch to the party. Serve these simply, with lemon, a drizzle of fine olive oil and a grind of black pepper.
Bread is a must, as are olives. I like some feta cheese with my octos, too. And you gotta have either an austere, crisp white wine — I recommend a Greek Assyrtiko — or lots and lots of ouzo.
If you like calamari, you will like this recipe. If you like octopus, you will love this recipe. So much so that you will find yourself eating ore than you think you might be able to; Holly and I ate this full two-pound recipe at one sitting. Glad we did not have to take a cholesterol test the next day…
Grilled Octopus, Greek Style
I used small octopi for this recipe, but it works just as well with larger ones, too. If you use a big octo, you will need to braise it longer, and you will want to cut it into chunks when you are ready to grill. Octopus is readily available at both Asian and Latin markets; the Mexicans, apparently, eat a lot of pulpo. It might be harder to find in an Anglo market, however. There is no easy substitute for octopus, although cuttlefish would work. But good luck finding cuttlefish.
Below I give a minimum time for marinating the octopus before grilling. You can marinate them for as long as a day or two beforehand and the octos will still taste fine. You can also braise on one day and grill on another. Once they’ve been braised, the octopi will keep a few days in the fridge. You also can serve this hot or at room temperature, so it really is a perfect make-ahead appetizer.
Serves 4 as an appetizer.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours, includes marinating time.
- 2 pounds octopus
- 3 to 4 bunches of herbs, such as parsley, oregano, fennel fronds and green onions
- 4 to 6 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Juice of a lemon
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- 1 chopped fresh hot chile, or 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
- Fine olive oil, black pepper and lemon wedges for garnish
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the octopus for 90 seconds. Remove the octopus and let it drain on a colander.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300°F. Line the bottom of a brazier, a Dutch oven or other large, ovenproof pot with a lid with the herbs and bay leaves. Lay the octopus on the nest of herbs, cover the pot and cook in the oven until tender, which will be somewhere between 90 minutes for small octopi to 4 hours for a really gigantic one. Two hours is about normal.
- When the octopus is tender, cut it into chunks. Leave small octopi whole. Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and chile and marinate the octopus in this for at least 1 hour, and as much as a day.
- To finish, get your grill blazing hot. Make sure the grill grates are clean. Grill the octopus over high heat until you get a little bit of charring here and there; they’re already cooked, so you are just adding flavor. Drizzle with really good olive oil, grind some black pepper over them and serve with a wedge of lemon — and a shot of ouzo.