Have you ever cooked octopus before? Been put off by the strange cooking methods you may have heard? James discvovered that it's actually one of the easiest and most fun things too cook. Join him on his first octopus adventure.
I’d never cooked octopus before. No particular reason, just never got round to it. It’s notoriously tough, and I’d heard some ludicrous suggestions for tenderising it – stick a cork in the pot, and less ludicrous ones – freeze it first. As it happens the creature arrived frozen, a greyish and unappealing ball. I got nervous. I did some reading. I spent most of the night dreaming about octopods.
Turns out it’s one of the easiest and most fun things to cook. On meeting its pot of boiling water the tentacles curl up, as if alive and resisting their fate. Once blanched, those curlsome legs look like fiddlehead ferns.
But the real revelation of this dish was the pig skin. I’d watched Rene Redzepi doing puffed pig skin on Jimmy Kimmel
and wanted to have a crack myself. But he dries his in the oven for 24 hours at 60C, and I didn’t have the time. So it had 10 hours at 100. When the skin came out it looked too crisp, and I gave up hope of the required puffing. On meeting hot oil, the first piece looked uninterested. I was on the verge of giving up when, like a flower blooming, the whole thing expanded in a matter of seconds
. It was one of the most exciting moments of my cooking life to date.
This dish is comprises a few components and a bit of foresight and planning, but no huge amount of skill. It’s one of those project dishes that is, I promise, worth every second.
Charred octopus with kimchi, pig skin, tobiko and garlic
For the kimchi
1 Chinese or green cabbage, shredded
100g fine sea salt
1 thumb ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 spring onions, chopped
1 ½ tbsp chilli powder
100ml rice vinegar
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp sugar
For the pig skin
200g or so pig skin
500ml grapeseed oil
For the octopus
1 small octopus
For the garlic
1 head of garlic
2 tbsp black rice vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Grapeseed or groundnut oil
Tobiko (flying fish roe – optional)
For the kimchi (at least a day ahead):
Put the cabbage and salt in a large bowl and cover with water. Mix around to dissolve the salt. Leave for an hour, then drain and shake dry. Add the remaining ingredients, swirl, and leave for at least a day, stirring occasionally.
For the pig skin:
Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and add the skin. Simmer gently for an hour, then drain and pat dry. Sit on a rack in a roasting tray, and dry overnight in an oven set at 100C. Trim off excess fat, and cut into 2 inch squares. Heat the oil to about 180C and add the skin, a piece at a time. Fry for 30 seconds to a minute, until puffed but not coloured. Dry on kitchen paper, and season with salt and togarashi.
For the octopus:
Bring a pan of water to a boil. Get a big bowl of iced water alongside. Remove the octopus head just below the eyes, if necessary, and clean. Drop into the water for no more than 10 seconds, then transfer to the iced water until cold. Separate the tentacles and gently poach in salted water for 45 minutes to an hour until tender. Remove and leave to cool.
For the garlic:
Trim the top off the garlic. Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of oil, wrap in foil, and bake for an hour at 180C. Cool, then squeeze the cloves out. Mash or blend until smooth, then blend in the vinegars and enough oil to smooth it out. Set aside.
Set the oven to 100C and gently warm through the pig skin. Put a ridged pan or sturdy frying pan on a ferocious heat. Pat the octopus really dry. Add a drop of oil to the pan and char the octopus for a minute on each side. Serve with the kimchi, pig skin, garlic puree and tobiko.
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