The Octopus Chronicles — Version 5.0

If you search this blog for ‘octopus’, you will find 19 separate postings containing this favorite food of mine. I’ve eaten them with gusto all over the world, but it’s the quest for mastering how to cook it perfectly that has intensified for me during the last 11 years. I think that I have finally reached success in the past week, so let me explain the sequence of the “Octopus Chronicles”.

Octopus 1.0 – I learned from Chef Mike Anthony at Gramercy Tavern how to cook baby octopus (August, 2010)

Octopus 1.5 – Occasional efforts with mediocre results with 2-4 lb. octopus. (2011-18)

Octopus 2.0 – How to simmer the octopus in water at about 200º F. until tender (July, 2018)

Octopus 3.0 – I discover Jessie Schenker’s technique for poaching octopus and then marinating it overnight (March, 2020)

Octopus 4.0 – Harold McGee’s revelation on cooking octopus (June, 2020)

and now, last weekend:

Octopus 5.0 – Combine McGee’s poaching technique with Schenker’s marinating (March, 2021)

On Friday I purchased a 4.5 lb. Spanish octopus from New Deal Fish Market in East Cambridge. I followed McGee’s directions exactly, as before. It took 5 hours and 20 minutes for this marvelous mollusk to reach the proper stage of tenderness in my heavy Le Creuset Dutch oven.

Next, I prepared the marinade, with juices and zest from lemon, orange, and lime, added to a large stainless bowl of extra virgin olive oil. Also added rosemary branches, garlic, lots of Kosher salt, and dried, ground Calabrian pepper flakes. The octopus (still quite warm from the pot) was added to the marinade and placed in the refrigerator overnight to absorb the flavors in the bath.

The next day I removed two tentacles from the marinade, placed them on a very hot gas grill to get charred and crispy, and served them for lunch — adding only some sea salt, olive oil and a little Portuguese red wine vinegar — alongside a few pieces of my grilled sourdough bread. For the wine, I chose an already-opened 2019 Albahra, a Garnacha from the Canary Islands.

These pictures can’t quite capture the ideal texture and flavor, but for me it was the best octopus ever.

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Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Chinese Dishes for Dinner

Our dinners during the third week in March were devoted to several favorite old recipes, with dishes inspired by the cuisines of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and China.

The first one was a dish I developed eight years ago. Cooked in a cazuela, I interpreted it as Spanish-inspired — Baked Eggplant, Zucchini, Tomato, and Rice. all the elements are cooked before final assembly, so that the end product is enhanced by the crispiness of the baked rice and Pecorino cheese.

The next night was Barbara’s turn, and she did a couple of her signature Chinese dishes, egg noodles with ginger and scallions, and broccoli with tofu. Oyster sauce and her hoisin seasoning with the tofu were prominently featured.

These plates matched beautifully with a Portuguese white wine, made with three little-known but delicious grape varieties.

When it was my turn again, I chose to use the remaining mushrooms (oyster and shiitake varieties) from my CSA share with Siena Farms. The medium was — of course — pasta, and the origin, Italian. Campanelle, mushrooms, cavolo nero, and Pecorino. The wine was a delicious 2017 Sandro di Pindeta Nebbiolo from Alberto Oggero, a wine of the week from Social Wines in Boston a month earlier.

The last meal in this series was harder to categorize, with overtones of Portuguese and Italian influences. I baked a whole small fish — Orata, also known as Sea Bream — on a bed of thinly-sliced potatoes and fennel. It was served with Japanese eggplant, roasted first with just olive oil, then with tomato and garlic, and then some Parmigiano to finish. Another side dish was blanched asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and Parmigiano, and roasted at 400º F. Accompaniment was a white wine from Villa Creek, featuring rich Rhône valley grapes like Rousanne and Marsanne to complement the rich white flesh of the fish.

One other dish deserves mention. We had some excellent fresh mung bean sprouts left over from another one of Barbara’s stir fries. I found a recipe where the sprouts are blanched in boiling water, then refreshed and crisped, and mixed with carrot, scallion, and pea pods and rice wine vinegar. It was a beautiful and delicious side dish.

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The Elegance of Canned Tuna Salad

StarKist and Chicken of the Sea may be the most popular brands of canned tuna fish, but any resemblance between them and really good tuna is purely coincidental. If you want to make a truly delicious tuna salad, then I suggest doing what I did today for lunch.

Start with a small tin of Luças brand Ventresca Tuna from Portugalia. (I wrote about this a year ago:

Additional ingredients can include almost anything you want. Here was my list today:

  • julienned purple daikon radish
  • diced red onion
  • finely-chopped garlic cloves
  • chopped arugula
  • chopped plum tomato
  • chopped scallions
  • chopped pitted niçoise olives
  • extra virgin olive oil (Greek or Portuguese preferred)
  • lemon juice
  • salt, fresh ground black pepper

Toss it all together, and put on the plate. Toast a few pieces of sourdough bread, drizzle with olive oil. Pour a glass of red wine, and dig in.


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Briam and Pan-Roasted Salmon

Roasted vegetables are always a treat, and an easy meal is one of those dishes with a piece of fish. A couple of nights ago, I chose Briam (or Briami), a Greek dish of Mediterranean vegetables, along with a small fillet of salmon with some roasted wild mushrooms.

A Calabrian Cirò Classico was a perfect complement


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Sourdough Country Loaves, Olive Bread, and Vegetable Soup

Every two or three weeks I’ve been making (and eating) two loaves of my Tartine-Style Sourdough Country bread. When I made the batch last week, I decided to add a third loaf, with olives, in a batard shape, vs. the standard boules. These went swimmingly with a vegetable soup, inspired by one of Barbara’s recipes several years ago.



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Finally! A Good Focaccia Experience

I’ve had a love of focaccia for many years. In the United States the penultimate example of great focaccia can be found at the Liguria Bakery in North Beach, San Francisco. In the last 20 years, this was always the benchmark for me. Unfortunately, I had never been able to make anything remotely resembling focaccia like that. Several previous attempts had fallen far short of the mark. Last week, however, a recipe from David Tanis changed the story.

That was how it is supposed to look if you do it right.

Here was my dough, developing and being prepared to bake:

Pretty good facsimile.

The other thing about focaccia is that it is best eaten in the first 6-8 hours after baking. My experience has been that reheated focaccia the next day was very disappointing. Amazingly, this recipe was good for almost a week. Of course, it was best when fresh, but toasted or pan-fried, it was enjoyable much longer than usual. I particularly liked serving it with Pecorino or Feta cheese.


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Second Half of February — Cooking Delights – Part 2

Bruschetta. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know that making sourdough — Tartine-style Country Loaf — is a major part of my cooking pleasure. You also must be familiar with the importance of bruschette for my breakfasts and lunches. Here are two recent examples.

Slices of sourdough, pan-fried with a little olive oil, is step #1. This variation uses a very simple black olive paste from Puglia as the first thin layer on top of the bread. That’s step #2. Next comes the white bean purée. I use cannellini — in this instance, from Gustiamo in NYC — cooking the dried beans in a clay pot until just the right consistency. After draining the beans and letting them cool to room temperature, I sauté chopped onion and garlic slowly until tender. That mixture and the beans go into a small food processor, with a little reserved bean broth and some olive oil, and is blended until fairly smooth. Salt and pepper added if necessary, and we have finished step #3. The final step (#4) is to find in the refrigerator the small prep dish containing the cooked beet greens I sautéed earlier, the last time I made steamed beets. The greens go atop the bean purée for contrast of flavor and texture in our completed dish.

A variation I like was one made with bean crema made a bit chunkier — no food processor, just beans mashed with the aromatics, using a wooden spoon. After being spread on the toast, the beans are smothered with chopped strips of sweet peppers, sautéed in garlic and capers. In this breakfast photo the bruschetta is served with salt-roasted red potatoes, sautéed in olive oil.

Pasta, Mushrooms. No blog post of mine is complete without some pasta. Since I have signed up with a local farm for four weekly boxes of their mushrooms, I’ve used them in a number of dishes during February. One of my favorites was Linguinette with Mushrooms and Sourdough Croutons (chopped up bits of a loaf of my bread, and left out to dry on the counter for a few days). For mushrooms, I sliced and sautéed both Shiitake and Oyster varieties with olive oil and butter, mixed with the pasta and pasta water, and finished with grated Sardinian Pecorino.


As you can see, I chose a white wine — a richly-flavored Coda di Volpe from Vadiaperti in Campania. Great match with the mushrooms and the Pecorino.

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Second Half of February — Cooking Delights – Part 1

Polpette.  This was a short month but long on good flavors and favorite meals. With my course teaching completed for the Spring Term, I had much more time to cook, and to enjoy Barbara’s creations, as well. One of her best dishes features Calabrian eggplant meatballs, as good or better than the ones made with real meat, Here’s her Spaghetti and Meatballs with Tomato Sauce, followed by the recipe PDF from the book, My Calabria.

Polpette di Melanzane con Spaghetti
Grilled Vegetables.  Two other dinners emanated from a single batch of grilled vegetables.  Even though it’s pretty cold here in February, the gas grill on our screened-in porch is quite usable, so I decided to make Black Bean Risotto with Grilled Vegetables, from Judith Barrett’s wonderful book, Risotto, Risotti.

Sliced eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, fennel, and onion, plus a single plum tomato, chopped up and added (before it went bad) provided the intense flavors.  The dish was so good, I ate it all before I took a photo of the bowl.  Use your imagination, if necessary.

Grilled Vegetable Quesadilla.  Fortunately, I saved the remainder of the vegetables (the risotto did not require very much of them).  That gave me an opportunity to make a quesadilla with them a few nights later.  Flour tortillas and grated Colby cheese, plus black beans, salsa and cilantro were all I needed.  I was delighted with the results, starting with a Cuban or Caribbean take on an Italian risotto, and ending with a Mexican or Tex-Mex version of a quick quesadilla, successfully accompanied by a red wine from Puglia in Southern Italy  — a cross-cultural event indeed.

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Cookbook Photo vs. My Dish


Cookbook photo Cannellini and Tomato Vinaigrette with Shrimp

My version


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New Year and Some New Dishes

Today was a fine day for inventing a new dish for lunch and for trying out two recipes I had never attempted before, for dinner.

Lunch was inspired by available elements of past, present, and future salads. Favorite tools played a part, as well. The tool is a Kuhn Rikon mandoline-style julienne cutter. I decided to finish the unused half of a purple daikon radish and one large steamed beet. The tool made quick (and safe) work of the task. The vegetable sticks went into two prep dishes, and then were flavored quickly with several pinches of Sicilian sea salt. This incentivized me to examine the refrigerator for other candidate ingredients, and I found the tail end of Barbara’s excellent cole slaw, and some leftover asparagus spears with sautéed shallots. I had slow-roasted plum tomatoes a couple of days ago, so I grabbed a few of those, along with a small chunk of jalapeños pickled in the Fall.

I mixed all the vegetables together in a bowl, then added salt, pepper, Kala Namak (the volcanic salt from India, which whose sulfurous flavors complement beets beautifully), Greek olive oil, and a touch of red wine vinegar. Two slices of my sourdough, topped with homemade Kalamata olive tapenade completed the preparation. I poured a small glass of a Portuguese red wine from the Douro Valley, and then devoured it all with gusto.

Kuhn Rikon Julienne Slicer

A few hours later it was time to make dinner. I had not figured out what I was going to make yet, but I did have a pot of just-cooked Marcella cannellini beans from Rancho Gordo, so that’s where I began the planning. Grabbing one of Joyce Goldstein’s cookbooks on Mediterranean cooking, I found a recipe that seemed to be just what I needed. Since Barbara is a bit limited in how much beans she will tolerate, I thought the recipe selected would be highly acceptable, since it combined the beans with a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, and sautéed shrimp, which were in our freezer and could be defrosted in two hours.

It turned out to be a good choice, but it was also a lot of work, since I first had to make the vinaigrette, prep the beans, and defrost and shell the shrimp. And — of course — I decided that I could make two other dishes to complete the meal. One was a simple bowl of steamed zucchini — microwave for 3 minutes, no problem. The other of those was a recipe for onion, tomato, and feta cheese turnovers from my Greek islands cookbook. Then I discovered that the turnovers require that I make dough called Cretan Phyllo first. So I did. Here are the recipes:

Some more Pacheca wine fit right in, and we enjoyed the dinner immensely. Not so much, all the dirty dishes, but Barbara did most of those to help out.

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