Monday, August 6, 2012

Grilled Baby Octopus with Arugula, Beets & Chickpeas

There are two kinds of people: those that adore Grilled Octopus, and those that quite emphatically do not. I am in the first camp. In fact, Grilled Octopus is one of my favourite dishes, and I'll order it every time I see it on a menu. I love everything about it, especially how tender and succulent it can be, often sweet like lobster or scallops, but with a slightly firmer texture, and ah, those tentacles! Just last week, I ordered the Grilled Octopus at Diana's Oyster Bar & Grill, which recently opened at 2105 Lawrence Ave East, next door to Diana's Seafood in Scarborough. Marinated simply, in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, fresh herbs and served with a warm tomato caper and kalamata olive salsa and garnished with a charred lemon, the octopus was exceptional.

Octopus marinated in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and fresh herbs, served with a warm tomato caper and kalamata olive salsa and charred lemon, from Dana's Seafood

Inspired by the dish, I asked our server Chris, how they managed to get it so 'right'. He told me that rather than simmering it for ages, as many recipes instruct, Diana's steam their octopus for only about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cephalopod, then toss it with a light vinaigrette and grill it until it's nicely charred and warmed through. Not only is this the way Diana's Oyster Bar & Grill does it, but it's the way Chris' mom does it too. That was enough of an endorsement for me — I marched next door to Diana's Seafood, picked up a 2-pound bag of frozen baby octopus and a large whole one, and put Chris's recipe to the test. The verdict: steaming is definitely the way to go. 

The tenticular splendour of my whole octopus, ready to be steamed, 
marinated and grilled

After allowing the baby octopus to defrost overnight, it only needed about 6 minutes to steam through and become fully cooked through. Added to a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, I poured the mixture into a Ziploc bag and refrigerated it for about 3 hours, to allow the octopus to marinate nicely before serving it chilled over wild arugula, roasted beets, canned chickpeas and crumbled goat cheese. Sweet, mild and wonderfully tender, the octopus can also be briefly grilled on the barbecue, for a simple and delicious warm summer salad.

Grilled Baby Octopus with Arugula, Beets & Chickpea Salad
Serves 6

For the octopus:
2 lb bag frozen & cleaned baby octopus, thawed (Diana's Seafood) 

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

For the salad:
3 small beets, washed & leafy tops removed
3 cups arugula
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained & rinsed
8 oz Goat cheese, crumbled
Maldon sea salt, for garnish
4 tbsp olive oil
Sprigs of fresh dill, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Wrap each of the beets in aluminum foil and bake for at least an hour, or until a knife passes easily through the beets. Allow them to cool then using plastic gloves, peel the skins off. Cut the beets into small wedges and place in a bowl.

Place the thawed baby octopus in a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water and steam for 5-6 minutes, until the octopus is slightly curled and cooked through. Drain and set aside.

Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic cloves, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and add the steamed octopus, tossing to coat. Pour the mixture into a large Ziploc bag and refrigerate for about 2 hours, or let marinate overnight.

To serve, arrange the arugula, beets, goat cheese, chickpeas and fresh dill on a serving dish and drizzle with olive oil and garnish with a sprinkle of Maldon sea salt. Scatter the marinated baby octopus over the salad and serve.

Alternatively, preheat an outdoor barbecue to medium-high and grill the marinated octopus until the edges char slightly and the flesh is warmed through. Add the grilled octopus over the Arugula, Beet & Chickpea Salad and serve.