We have all experienced chewy, fibrous and tasteless octopus, so how to make sure your octopus is juicy, tender and full of flavours?
Since octopuses don’t have bones, they have very tough connective tissue (collagen) between the muscles. When heating the octopus for a few hours, the collagen will break down into soft gelatine and the meat will become tender and juicy, just as you would like it to be.
‘How to speed up the process’, you wonder? You could add vinegar to the cooking liquid, you could prepare the octopus by storing it in brine for a few hours, you could beat and pound the flesh, you could freeze the octopus for a few days, you could try adding a wine cork to the cooking liquid (hilarious!). Unfortunately none of these short cuts make a significant difference.
The best method is to stew the octopus in a large pot or in the oven. This may take 4 hours or more. Octopuses contain a fair amount of juices and you want to capture these and their lovely flavours, which is exactly what you do when stewing an octopus. Cooking an octopus in water for hours means losing these flavours; not something you want to do.
There is only one alternative to slow cooking: buy (frozen) baby octopuses. Marinate them for a few hours, grill them for 2 minutes and enjoy with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer.
What You Need
6 Baby Octopuses
For the Marinade
Sweet Soy Sauce (Kecap Manis)
One Garlic Glove
Teaspoon of Cumin
Tablespoon of Chilli Bean Sauce (Toban Djan)
Chinese or Japanese pickles
What You Do
Clean the octopuses and remove the beak. Grate the ginger, chop the garlic and combine with the other ingredients. You’re looking for a powerful marinade with lots of chilli and (sweet) soy sauce. Allow the octopuses to marinate for a few hours. Heat your grill, dry the octopus and grill for 2*1 minute. We prefer using a non-stick contact grill. Cut of the mantle and slice the tentacles in two. Serve on a warm plate with pickles and share.
Grilling is an art in its own right in Japan. A simple way is Shioyaki: the fish is salted, left to chill overnight and grilled the next day. An essential element of a Japanese breakfast, together with pickled plums (Umeboshi), sweet yet savoury omelet (Tamagoyaki), rice, a bowl of miso soup and green tea. As you can imagine a traditional Japanese breakfast is rather nutritious and packed with flavours.
A well known grilling method is Teriyaki: the fish is marinated in a combination of soy sauce, mirin and sake for a few hours and then grilled, with the fish dipped in the sauce several times during the grilling process.
Another way is Saikyo Yaki: the fish is marinated in Saikyo miso for 5 days and then grilled. Saikyo miso is a white, slightly sweet, low sodium miso from Kyoto. The marinated and grilled fish is served with pickled ginger. Originally a way to preserve the fish, it’s now much liked because of the umami and the intriguing combination of flavours and aromas.
Best served with dry sake. We prefer Junmai Taru Sake as produced by Kiku-Masamune. The sake is matured in barrels made of the finest Yoshino cedar. The aroma has indeed clear hints of cedar. The sake will clear your palate and allow for a more intense taste of the marinated halibut.
What You Need
Two slices of fresh halibut (thin is best)
White Miso (preferable with less salt)
Pickled Ginger or Cucumber
Karashi (Japanese mustard)
What You Do
Start four or five days in advance. Coat the halibut with miso making sure the halibut is fully coated. Cover with foil and transfer to the fridge. Check on a daily basis if the fish is still covered. Using a small spoon carefully remove most of the miso. Rinse the halibut with water and dry with kitchen paper. The white flesh should now be slightly orange. Heat a non sticky pan until warm, but not hot, through and through. If too hot, the fish will burn. We set our induction hob to 6 (where 9 is the maximum). Add a bit of olive oil and then fry the fish for 2*2 minutes. Serve on a warm plate with pickles and karashi.
The Portuguese kitchen is not known for its subtleness or refinement. But that should not stop you from enjoying it! Portuguese cuisine comes with powerful flavours, lots of fish of course, bacalhau, Caldo Verde, octopus, cuttlefish, and the well known chicken piri-piri and pastel de nata. Same for Portuguese wine: perhaps not the most subtle wine (apart from Madeiras and Port wines), but how about an excellent Vinho Verde, a red wine from the Dão region made with Touriga Nacional or a red wine from Alentejo? We love flavors and we very much enjoy the bold dishes from Portugal.
Recently when in Brussels we booked a table at Chez Luis, a Portuguese Bar à vin and Restaurant. Tasty dishes like Pasteis de bacalhau, Cassolette de palourdes and Polvo lagareiro. Served with Portuguese wine, of course. And Chez Luis has an excellent choice! So we drank a vibrant espumante and a refreshing Vinho Verde (Longos Vales Alvarinho 2016). The Polvo made us think of one of our favorites: Octopus with summer vegetables. And since one octopus is way too much for two people, we simply bought two cooked tentacles. Feel free to buy a whole octopus, clean it, cook it, braise it and then follow the recipe below.
A Portuguese white wine will be a excellent choice, for instance a Vinho Verde like we enjoyed at Chez Luis. You could also go for a Spanish Verdejo from Rueda. Look for characteristics like fresh, fruity, clear acidity, subtle bitterness and full bodied.
What You Need
2 Octopus Tentacles (cooked)
1 Red Bell Pepper
2 gloves of fresh Garlic
1 Spring Onion
What You do
Clean the red bell pepper and slice in 4 to 6 chunks. Grill it in your oven until nicely burned. Transfer to a plastic container and close the lid. Wait a few hours before peeling the bell pepper. Slice it into cubes (not too small). Remove the pits from the tomato. Slice in similar cubes. Slice the garlic (again, not too small). Slice the spring onion. Mix the vegetables and fry gently in a hot pan with olive oil. Set to low heat. In parallel heat your grill pan. Remove the gelatinous substance from the tentacles, dry them, coat with olive oil and grill for 4*2 minutes, creating a nice brown criss-cross pattern. It will not be very visible, but it will be crunchy. Just before serving the dish, add some Jerez vinegar to the vegetables, turning it into something like a salsa. Perhaps some parsley and black pepper. Serve the hot tentacle on the vegetables and add a slice of lemon.
The best way to eat an oyster is to eat it raw. You will taste the saltiness, the texture and all of its flavours. The usual way to counter the saltiness is by adding a bit of lemon or mignonette but you could also go for something spicy like Tabasco, horseradish or perhaps wasabi. Don’t add something sweet because the oyster has its own sweetness. Enjoying an oyster begins by deciding which oysters to buy. Should they be small or large, should the taste be creamy, sweet or more lean and juicy? The rule is simple: if an oyster looks creamy (opaque) then it will taste creamy. The next step is opening the oysters and then you’re good to go. Please remember, as always: eating means chewing and tasting. Some people think they should drink an oyster. And then state that an oyster is just a bit of salt water. Be careful if you see cooked or steamed oysters on a menu. In most cases the oysters will be covered with lots of overwhelming ingredients, in an attempt to hide the taste of the oyster. Plus if the oyster is overcooked its structure will be rubbery and nasty. Feel free to go for Steamed Oysters with Black Bean Sauce at your Chinese restaurant, or for Oysters Rockefeller (when you trust the chef) of for our quick and delicious Oysters with Tarragon.
When eating oysters, your wine must have some minerality. Think Chablis, Picpoul de Pinet, Sancerre, Sylvaner, and Champagne. We enjoyed a glass of Sylvaner Reserve 2017, Fernand Engel. It has a nice yellow colour with aromas such as citrus. The taste is fresh with an elegant acidity and fruit. It’s a very open wine and one that combines very well with the flavours of the oysters and the tarragon.
What You Need
6 oysters (or 12).
Lots of Tarragon
What You Do
We will add butter to the oyster, so buy ones that are lean (so not creamy), for instance the ones from the Île de Ré. Pre-heat your oven and set to grill. Combine the butter and the finely chopped tarragon with some white pepper. Make 6 equal sized lumps. Set aside and keep cool. Scrub each oyster under cold, running water. Open the oyster. Use your knife or a spoon to detach the muscle underneath the oyster from the bottom shell. Remove any small bits of broken shell or sediment. Remove some of the liquid, top with the tarragon butter. Make sure you have everything ready for serving the grilled oysters (plate, tongs, wine, guests). Place under the grill for 1 minute and serve immediately.
We enjoyed this dish as a starter when in Milan, on a beautiful evening, eating al fresco and enjoying the wonderful combination of the sweetness and bitterness of the asparagus, the slightly caramelised sugars as a result of grilling the asparagus and the salty and sweet cheese. A glass of Pinot Grigio was all we wanted. In Milan they served us green asparagus, but it works even better with white asparagus. This is typically a dish you would make when the asparagus season is at its high and outside temperatures feel like summer. You could drink a Pinot Grigio, a Muscat from the Alsace region or a Rose with character. Remember the wine needs to combine with a range of very diverse flavours in the dish.
Here is what you need:
2 Asparagus per person
Peel the asparagus and cook or steam until slightly tender. Depending on the size we would say 10-15 minutes in the Russel Hobss steamer. Leave and let cool. Take a plate, add some oil to the plate and use it to cover the asparagus in oil. Heat the pan and grill the asparagus for 4*1 minute, making sure you have a lovely brown (not too dark) pattern. Serve on a plate, add some grated Parmesan cheese and pepper. Add a generous drizzle of very good olive oil.