Our good friend Stamatis is a great cook, and was kind enough to share his delicious recipe “Greek fisherman’s soup” last year on my blog. Recipe link here.
This year on our trip to Greece he came to cook us octopus.
Stamatis had a restaurant for many years and was also commercially trained in the Army, working in the kitchen. When Stamatis says he is going to come and cook for us – everyone gets excited. Even the kids and Yia Yia. Everyone loves Stamatis’ cooking and his BBQ skills are much admired by all his friends (as well as his secret lemon mustard sauce for grilled chicken).
In Greece, kids grow up eating octopus and in fact, all the Greek kids that I know absolutely love it – even the fussy eaters. They love all seafood in general, even little fish like whitebait and sardines. Children in the Greek islands grow up learning to fish from a young age.
This trip, my partner’s 7 year old niece caught an octopus in her tiny toy fishing net. She was so shocked she caught it (as were the people around her) that it escaped from the net in all the excitement.
Last year our friend Manolis caught an octopus with a piece of bread and a fishing line. Unheard of to catch like this … and his friends didn’t believe him, except we were witnesses and took photos … And it was a big one! After catching it Manolis then set about bashing it against the rocks and massaging it to break down and tenderise it in the traditional way. If they are going to grill it, the Greeks hang it on a line in the sun to dry it out for a couple of days.
It is probably fair to say that octopus (like oysters) is one of foods polarising ingredients – people that love it go crazy for it and people that don’t usually find the thought of it repulsive. There is very little in between. If you are in the latter camp don’t be put off by this recipe as Stifado is a Greek classic and is also made traditionally with rabbit, beef or chicken too, so you can easily substitute the octopus.
What makes the Stifado is the generous use of the whole baby onions that sweeten and caramelise the dish. You need at least equal quantities compared to the meat, or a little more. Paired with the sauce of red wine, tomato and aromatic spices traditionally Stifado is eaten with bread to mop up the sauce, but rice and potatoes are a popular accompaniment and this makes it a lovely gluten free meal. It also tastes the best if eaten by the sea 😎
This was my first foray into cooking octopus – and after seeing how it is done and how simple it is, I’m not sure what I was scared about. Soooo easy. Your fishmonger can clean it up and remove the beak and ink sacs.
Don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on a fresh octopus, freezing octopus makes it tender. So, for those of us living outside of a Greek island, the one you buy from your fishmonger will most likely have been frozen, so this is not an issue and it won’t affect your result. Just make sure it is completely thawed and drained before you cook it – do this by putting under running water for about 10 mins.
I have cooked this dish quite a few times since returning home (to much success) although our Australian octopus shrunk quite a lot, so I have taken to increasing the octopus quantity a little.
1-1.2 kg octopus
1-1.2 kg baby brown onions
3 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic
10 allspice balls
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
2 small tomatoes, peeled and chopped into small dice
1/2 cup red wine
1 tblspn tomato paste and 1 cup water
1 stick cinnamon
5 whole cloves
2-3 tsp red wine vinegar
1. If frozen thaw it out and drain it. Easiest way is under running water for about 10-15mims.
2. Place in large pot and use cooking scissors separate the tendrils, and the head.
3. Boil the octopus with a splash of water and the bay leaves for around 30 minutes covered. Remove the saucepan lid and cook for another 10mins. It will be springy and rubbery but slightly soft. Remove from heat and place in a bowl with the cooking liquid and set aside.
2. Fry garlic cloves in 1/2 cup olive oil on low heat for 2 mins until fragrant. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes until starting to turn translucent. Stir often as you don’t want to brown them.
3. Add the allspice, salt and pepper and red wine. Cook out the alcohol for 2 mins. Add the lid and cook for another 10mins, rolling the onions often so as not to burn them.
4. Add the fresh tomatoes, cinnamon stick. Stick the cloves into a couple of onions so that you can find them and remove at the end of the cooking. Cover and cook for 10mins.
5. Add vinegar, and the tomato paste that has been mixed through the cup of water. Simmer gently for 15mins.
6. Return the octopus to the saucepan along with about 1/4 cup of octopus cooking liquid – this imparts a richness to the sauce. Cover and cook gently for 45-60mins until octopus is meltingly soft. Leave to rest for 15mins.
Serve with rice, crusty bread or baked potatoes.
Serves 4 as a meal on its own or 8 as part of a banquet.