Perfectly crisp octopus, caramelised around the edges, is unbelievably good – especially when served with twice-cooked potatoes and the delicious Portuguese herb-and-oil condiment piso
“This dish is smothered in fragrant green extra-virgin olive oil, hence the name: a lagareiro is the owner of an olive oil press. The smell reminds me of summer days on the beaches outside Lisbon, when the scent of grilled octopus wafts alluringly through the air.
This varies from region to region, even person to person, and you can add any combination of herbs and citrus, even almonds and chilli, depending on what it’s to go with – let your imagination run wild. I like to make a double, triple or quadruple batch and store it in the fridge for a week. It works well as a marinade too.”
For the octopus:
• 1 octopus (about 600g), cleaned, with head, eyes and innards removed
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 white onion, quartered
• 2 garlic cloves
• Sea salt flakes and ground white pepper
For the piso:
• A bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks finely chopped
• ½ garlic clove, finely crushed
• Finely grated zest of ½ lemon, plus freshly squeezed juice to taste (optional)
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
For the smashed potatoes:
• 8–12 floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper or similar, skin on
• 4 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 bay leaves
• 4 garlic cloves, smashed
To cook the octopus:
1 Rinse the octopus under cold running water. Half-fill a large pan with water and add the bay leaf, onion and garlic and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, add the octopus and boil for 3 minutes.
2 Carefully remove the octopus and set it aside to rest for a few minutes. Bring the same water to the boil again and repeat the process two more times. In this way you can control the cooking process and check how firm the octopus flesh is becoming.
3 At this point, the flesh should be tender with a little resistance when you insert a knife, and the skin will feel slightly gelatinous.
4 Turn the heat down to low. Simmer the octopus, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove it from the pan and allow it to cool. If you have time, chill it overnight, which allows the flesh to become firmer. When the octopus has cooled, cut it into 3–4cm pieces.
To make the peso:
1 Mix together the coriander, garlic and lemon zest with a generous pinch of salt and pepper until you have a paste. I like to make this in a pestle and mortar, but you can also chop everything very finely by hand.
2 By adding salt at this early stage, the flavour will be drawn out from the garlic. Stir in the olive oil. I like it sharp, and I add about 2 tablespoons lemon juice just before serving so it doesn’t discolour. It will keep in the fridge for a few days with an extra glug of olive oil on top.
To make the smashed potatoes:
1 Preheat the oven to 210°C/Fan 190°C/Gas 6½. Cook the potatoes in plenty of salted boiling water until just tender but not breaking up. Remove from the pan, drain well and leave until cool enough to handle. Murro means ‘punch’ in Portuguese, and we are now going to punch the potatoes. Smash each one gently with the palm of your hand.
2 Toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, bay leaves and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Put them in a large baking dish (big enough to hold the octopus too) and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.
3 Drizzle the octopus with extra-virgin olive oil and put the pieces on top of the potatoes. Increase the oven temperature to 220°C/Fan 200°C/Gas 7 and cook for 10 minutes, or until the octopus has lovely crispy edges.
4 Drizzle with the piso, take it straight to the table and let your guests help themselves.
Extract taken from Lisboeta: Recipes from Portugal’s City of Light by Nuno Mendes (Bloomsbury, £26) is out now
Photography © Andrew Montgomery