I do love fresh seafood. But growing up as a kid, I have to admit that I had the strongest aversion to it. Not just fish, mind you, but generally everything seafood. Try as my parents might to convert me, somewhere in my early memories was an ill-fated plate of baked bluefish that turned me off to anything that faintly reeked of the sea. If my family was eating fish, I opted for anything but.
It wasn’t until I got out of college and ate sushi for the first time (on a dare from a business colleague), that my tastes changed for the better. Quell bonne surprise! I thought for the very first time: here’s fish that doesn’t tasty fishy! Of course the one piece of sushi that I couldn’t quite warm up to was the octopus. It wasn’t the smell that turned me off. It was the texture. Most of it was so chewy that I thought I was gnawing on the cover of a Titleist golf ball. No thanks!
A few years back, a visit to Galicia changed my shortsighted perspective yet again. People in Spain have an affinity for fresh seafood. It could be the fact that they’re nearly surrounded on all sides by ocean. It also means that the locals know where to get it good and have a knack for preparing it.
The dish I’m referring to is a Galician classic, pulpo gallego. Here the practice of flash freezing and then gently boiling the octopus in salted water tenderizes the meat. It’s then further transformed with the addition of good Spanish olive oil, salt and hot pimenton (Spain’s famous smoked paprika).
The pulpo doesn’t taste like chicken. Done right, the texture reminds me more of pork instead. It isfairly simple to make and can be served as a tapa or added to a salad. For a wine pairing, think summery Spanish whites like Godello or Albarino as an ideal match. It also would go well with a thirst quenching cervesa.
Here’s a great recipe for pulpo gallego from celebrity Spanish chef Jose Andres as detailed in The Book of Tapas by Simone and Ines Ortega. This cookbook is a must for tapas!
Octopus with Paprika Recipe (Pulpo Gallego)
• 2 1/4 pounds octopus
• 3/4 cup olive oil
• Pinch hot paprika
• Salt, optional
15 minutes prep time
45 minutes cooking time
• 1. To tenderize the octopus, freeze it overnight before cooking. When you’re about 45 minutes away from your desired serving time, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the frozen octopus, and cook until tender, about 35 minutes, depending on the size and age of the octopus. You will need to test a piece of octopus to ensure it is cooked thoroughly. Drain the octopus and rinse under cold running water.
• 2. Remove and discard any dark skin from the octopus. Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Place the meat in a bowl, pour the oil over the top, sprinkle with hot paprika to taste, and season with salt, if desired. Mix well, ensuring the octopus is thoroughly coated. Serve immediately or transfer the octopus and oil to a heatproof bowl, cover with aluminum foil, and keep warm in an oven that’s as low as it goes.
Sweet Paprika Variation:
Heat 3/4 cup olive oil in a pan over low heat. Add about 1/4 of an onion, roughly chopped, and 1 garlic clove and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the onion and garlic with a slotted spoon and discard. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in sweet paprika to taste. Add the flavored oil to the octopus pieces, mix well, and serve immediately.
Jim Greeley, wine supervisor, SW Florida
Follow me on Twitter @ABCWineJimG