Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
If ever there was a word designed to inflame the vegetarian, it has to be baby, and I have to admit it does make me feel a bit funny when I mention this dish. It’s in the same bracket as veal and lamb, and I’m sorry if that upsets people.
But there my apology has to end. The thing is, mature octopus is as tough as old boots if you’re not careful, but the young ones aren’t. They come in frozen packs and if you’ve got a large pack you will probably have to break it up.
To break up a block of baby octopus, squid, chicken legs etc, take a screwdriver or chisel and wash it thoroughly, then sterilize it by holding it in a flame for a minute.
Place the frozen block, still with wrapper intact, on a chopping board, maybe with a couple of tea towels to absorb noise and limit damage.
Next, take a hammer and bang the tool into the line where you want to break the block. Knock it all the way through, then do it again somewhere else on the same line if necessary.
Still with the wrapping intact, go outside and, like some sort of culinary madman, bang the thing on a concrete surface until it cracks.
Obviously hygiene is vitally important, so wash the pack before opening it and generally be careful.
Alternatively, you could prop up one end of the pack on a chopping board and have a go at the line you want with the back of a meat cleaver, being careful not to damage the work surface. Good luck with that.
Another option is to let the block thaw, which will take several hours, and then you either have to eat everything or throw the rest away, because (talking of hygiene) you can’t refreeze this sort of thing.
Much of the flavor of this dish comes from the humble bay leaf, and it is influenced by something my Mum used to make. We lived in Guernsey, which is an island between France and England, and one of the local delicacies was the ormer. This is better known as its close relative, abalone, which is popular in Australia and Japan, and it is a shellfish that sticks to rocks just below low tide mark.
My Mum used to stew ormers with bay leaves, and I must have been 16 before I realized that the flavor I loved was not the ormers themselves but the herb.
We’re doing the octopus in a tomato sauce, and it’s laughably simple.
Baby octopus, three or four per person.
A can of tomatoes
A little red wine
Place the octopus in a casserole dish or high-sided baking tray.
Pour in the tomatoes.
Add a splash of wine and Worcestershire sauce, plus a quick shake of something hot if you like (jalapeno powder, chilli powder, whatever you have).
Submerge three or four bay leaves at intervals through the dish. If you don’t have leaves, use a good dusting of the powder. Mix everything up well.
Cover with foil and cook in a medium oven for about two hours. Have a look after an hour to see how things are going, and add more liquid if necessary (water, wine, tomato juice), plus a little celery salt if it needs a lift.
Serve with boiled wholegrain rice or mashed potato.