Octopus is having a moment. The staple of Spanish cafes and Greek tavernas is the protein du jour on white-hot menus nationwide, or, as the website Eater L.A. put it, "Octopus is the new pork belly." Our question: What took so long? The cephalopod is not only a cinch to make but also offers the mild, sweet flavor of sea scallops with a firm but yielding texture akin to a good steak. After 10 years of grilling octopus at home, I've found that nothing beats the classic Spanish preparation.
Octopus muscle fiber is a little like beef tongue's, for the simple reason that both have to move in crazy directions without any support from bone. That means you must tenderize it before grilling. Freezing helps that process, so I'm a fan of keeping a whole octopus in the freezer for whenever the mood strikes. After defrosting, just pop the creature into a pot of simmering water for an hour or so, cut off the tentacles, clean them up, and grill over a hot flame until properly charred. Serve with some crusty bread or any kind of salad (such as the lentil, red onion, and basil one shown above), and a light-bodied red wine or cold rosé. And don't be afraid of leftovers. Unlike many fin fish, cooked octopus keeps great in the refrigerator — perfect for a classy cold seafood salad.
- Octopus (2–3 lbs), cleaned (fresh or frozen)
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 head garlic, cut in half lengthwise
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 1 tbsp salt, plus more to taste
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Minced fresh parsley
- Smoked paprika
1. Tenderize: In a large saucepan, place octopus, thyme, garlic, half of the lemon, 1 tbsp salt, and water to cover by an inch or 2. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, cover, and simmer 60–90 minutes, until the octopus is tender enough that the point of a sharp knife penetrates the flesh easily. Drain and discard everything but the octopus. (This can be done up to 48 hours ahead. Just cover and refrigerate until you're ready to grill.)
2. Prepare the octopus: Heat a charcoal grill, gas grill, or grill pan on a burner to high heat. Slice the tentacles off the octopus' head; cut them so they are as long as possible. With the edge of a knife, scrape the sides of the tentacles — except the side with the suckers — removing the soft, purplish skin to reveal the firm white flesh. Rub with a clean dish towel to finish the job. Place tentacles in a bowl with olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and toss again.
3. Grill: Cook the tentacles quickly over high heat until nicely charred on all sides, 3–5 minutes per side.
4. Serve: Pile the grilled tentacles on a platter, and squeeze the remaining lemon over them. Top with minced parsley and a dusting of smoked paprika.