This blog was originally put together as a way to answer the question "how do they do that?" One of the most common instances of this question for me here at Palo Alto Grill is the Char-Grilled Octopus. Most people are familiar with octopus in a sushi context. It is rubbery, flavorless, and mostly enjoyable in a novelty context.
Our octopus is prepared in a more Mediterranean style. It is cooked a total of 3 times over several hours in order to give it its delicate barely spongy texture.
I often say that octopus is one of those things that when its cooked perfectly its a real delicacy, but when its cooked almost perfectly...its garbage. Thus, it must be prepared just so.
When we receive our octopus, it comes tentacles only. We find the tentacles cook more evenly and the skin tears and falls away less often. From the picture it looks as though the tentacles are still squirming. However, while some restaurants receive (and even serve) octopus still wriggling, they arrive at Palo Alto Grill fresh, but fortunately dead.
The first step in preparing our octopus is to blanch them in boiling water. Octopus muscles are full of collagen and they release a lot of gelatin, which if not drawn out from the muscles can leave the octopus rubbery and gelatinous. Use more water than you need to draw out as much of the excess gelatin as possible.
We are going to be confitting the octopus in olive oil, which creates a very concentrated water-soluble context. If we don't remove this gelatin now, then after the cook in oil, the octopus will be tightly bound in a dense layer of purple goo.
As the octopus enters the water, the tentacles curl up right away, which can be kind of fun. Cook them in the water until they float.
Remove the octopus from the water and discard.
You should be able to see how much thicker, purple and gelatinous the water has become.
At this point, simmer the Octopus in olive oil over very very low heat. This process can be done on the stove or in the oven. If done on the stove, set flame to lowest setting; if done in the oven, set at 325F. Make sure to use enough olive oil to cover. (Note: this uses a lot of olive oil. After, you may want to save the oil for something specific, but it should be refrigerated and will have a slight octopus flavor.)
Confit octopus for about 3 hours. It may shrink considerably during cooking. To test for doneness, slice off a piece and see how chewy it is, or use a small knife and see if it goes in and out of the octopus easily.
If you will be serving the octopus at a later time, store it in the oil under refrigeration until ready to serve.
At this point, the skin on the octopus will be loose, and the best way to turn this gooey stickiness into delicious crispiness is to char it on the grill. Don't be afraid to allow the octopus to blacken rather heavily, the crispy exterior will contrast nicely with the very slightly chewy interior.
The texture of octopus contrasts brilliantly with sauteed potatoes, its a match made in heaven like peanut butter and jelly. We add a bit of chopped garlic and sliced preserved lemon. The preserved lemon skin adds a nice salty acidic kick.
The dish is finished with chopped basil and basil oil
Most people are very surprised at the texture. It is almost crisp on the outside and very tender throughout. The flavor of octopus is barely ocean-y, quite ham-like. An easy try for people who aren't big seafood eaters.