With a gorgeously chewy texture, Rosie Birkett’s octopus, avocado and butter bean salad is a smokey bite of perfection
“When cooked slowly and carefully, octopus achieves a tender yet substantial quality unlike any other seafood, and once you’ve braised it in its own juices using the method below, you can finish it on a barbecue for a smoky char, fry it in a bit of olive oil to crisp it up at the edges, or keep it in the fridge and use it as a protein ingredient as and when.
My method is adapted from Anna Hansen’s recipe in her book The Modern Pantry, which is in turn adapted from Giorgio Locatelli’s method in Made In Italy: Food and Other Stories.
I use the softened garlic and chillies cooked with the octopus, and the wonderfully flavourful juices released during cooking to make a punchy dressing for this salad of beans and avocado. It’s worth eating it with bread to mop up the dressing.”
For the octopus:
• 1 octopus
• 8 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 red bird’s-eye chillies, halved
• 5 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
• 3 slices lemon
• few sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stems
• 1 bay leaf
• 3 black peppercorns
For the salad:
• handful cherry tomatoes, halved
• extra-virgin olive oil
• sea salt
• 1 sprig rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
• 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
• 1/2 lemon, juiced
• pinch ground white pepper
• 400g tinned butter beans, drained and rinsed
• 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
• handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
• 1 ripe avocado, peeled, stoned and cubed
1 First you need to tenderise the octopus. You can do this very easily by freezing it a couple of days before you cook it, and then defrosting it. I tend to buy it frozen from the fishmonger (lots of Asian grocers also sell them frozen) so I just need to defrost it and I’m ready to go.
2 You may also need to remove the eyes. Do this by cutting around and under them with a very sharp knife and popping them and the attached cartilage out.
3 When you cut out the eyes you can then press the hard beak (the creature’s mouth) out of the centre cavity where the legs join together.
4 Clean any gunk from the cavities with kitchen paper, and rinse the octopus under cold water in the sink for about 10 minutes. Alternatively, ask your fishmonger to clean and prep the octopus for you.
5 Place 6 tablespoons of the olive oil with the octopus, chillies, garlic, lemon slices, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns in a large pot or casserole, give it a shake, and cover tightly with a lid.
6 Slowly bring it up to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes. At this point check for tenderness, prodding a skewer or cocktail stick into the fattest part of the octopus.
7 If the octopus falls off the skewer easily with little resistance, rather than sticking to it, it’s done. If it clings to the skewer, cook it for a further 10–15 minutes, or until there’s no resistance.
8 While the octopus is cooking, toss the tomatoes in 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil with a pinch of sea salt, the rosemary and vinegar and set aside.
9 Once it’s cooked until tender, transfer the octopus from the casserole to a plate. Allow it to cool and then, if you like, peel off the dark skin and cut into chunks – I like to keep some of the arms intact for presentation.
10 To make the chilli garlic dressing, place the softened garlic and cooked chillies that were cooked with the octopus in mini-chopper with about 5 tablespoons of the purple cooking liquor from the pot and blitz until you have a creamy, emulsified sauce.
11 Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice and white pepper, and blitz again.
12 Taste for seasoning – you might need to add more lemon juice if it tastes too salty, or more olive oil if it’s a little sharp. Use your judgment to adjust the dressing.
13 To assemble the salad, mix the beans with the onion, parsley, avocado and marinated tomatoes, and arrange on the plate. Top with the octopus, and drizzle with the dressing.
Recipe courtesy of Rosie Birkett, extracted from A Lot on Her Plate