Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dinner on the Fly: Octopus Potato Salad with Pancetta and Mint

Let's demystify octopus, shall we?  It is not that complicated, People.  You can make it for dinner on an ordinary day and it is no big deal.  So what are you afraid of?  It was fine when you ordered it in that Spanish tapas place.  Of course it was already cleaned, chopped, prepared and somehow artfully arranged on your plate.  But really you just can not imagine it on your kitchen counter as a blubbery, bulbous mass with purple, suctioned-cupped tentacles.  I am here to tell you that you can do this.

First here are a few of things you should know:
  1. You are going to buy it frozen.  I know what you are thinking and believe me I am not accustomed to buying fish or seafood from my local supermarket's freezer section.  First of all, I am willing to bet that your local supermarket is not selling octopus, am I right?  ( If you live in NY I have gotten mine at Sunny Fish Market in Queens or Buon Italia in Manhattan, but I am sure there are many other great places.)  Octopus actually freezes well and is almost always sold to a wholesaler frozen.  I have heard rumors of New York neighborhoods like Chinatown or Bay Ridge, where you can get fresh octopus but I have not made those outings yet to be sure. Anthing you buy fresh is a real treat but I am willing to bet that the wonderful pulpa you had at that Spanish Tapas Bar probably started out frozen.
  2. You are going to stick it in a pot and boil it.  Now does that sound hard? I haven't bought a frozen octopus that hasn't already been cleaned but I suppose it is still worth it to pose the question to your fish monger.  But boiling is pretty much the extent of preparing your octopus.  I have never had to beat it against a wall or put a cork in the water but feel free to try that if you feel so inclined.  Depending on the size of the octopus, you want to boil it for 45 minutes to an hour.  You should note that it will reduce in size by about a third.  It will be ready when you stick in fork in it and it is tender. Pull it out of the pot, chop it into attractive pieces and you are done.
  3. If you are not accustomed to eating octopus, try it.  It is surprisingly delicious.  And if the environment and sustainability is a concern of yours, as it is a concern of mine, octopus is one of the better choices at your fish market.  I can not say that it is certainly local but octopi are a short lived and fast growing breed, making them better able to withstand overfishing. 
Octopus Potato Salad with Pancetta and Mint
  • 1 octopus, prepared and chopped
  • 3 potatoes, boiled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 of a cup chopped pancetta
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 2 shallots, 1 minced and 1 sliced 
  • 1 stalk chopped celery 
  • 1/2 a cup of cooked (or from a can) chick peas 
  • pinch of red chili flakes
  • 5 tablespoons of olive oil 
  • 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
In a small bowl, add minced shallot and vinegar.  Slowly drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil while beating the vinegar and shallot with a fork.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Chop your potatoes first and then boil them in salted water (they will cook faster that way). Let them cool for 10 minutes. In a large bowl combine celery, warm potatos (not hot), and chick peas.  Add some of the olive oil and vinegar mixture while the potatoes are still warm and toss.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet.  Add pancetta and sliced shallot and turn the heat to medium low.  Let cook until the pancetta and shallots turn golden brown on the edges.  This will render some pork fat and carmelize the shallots.  When they are almost done and the skillet is still hot add the red chili flakes.  Let cool for a few minutes then add to the potato mixture and toss.  Add mint leaves, season with salt, pepper and the remaining oil and vinegar dressing to taste.


  1. haha pretty cool de mystification Steph! I like these real daring exhortations; they really make you try out something new!

  2. As delicious as the picture looks, I don't think I could eat Octopus. Jim could and has, but I'm not that adventurous. Good for you trying new things! I'm too old to live dangerously with exotic foods. Ha Ha. I like your blog.

  3. I love octopus. Nancy Silverton actually recommends buying frozen in her cookbook because it helps tenderize it. Apparently the octopus at Babbo all start as frozen as that's where she got the idea. Delicious sounding salad!

  4. Great to know. That explains why have never had a chewy octopus problem. I will check out Nancy Silverton. Sounds like she has some great tips.