Octopus and Potato Salad:
A Taste of Italian Tradition
Embark on a culinary journey with the classic octopus and potato salad, a beloved Italian favourite. Rich in taste and tradition, this dish is a delightful fusion of succulent seafood and comforting potatoes. Whether a starter or a main, it’s a wholesome and versatile treat that’s sure to captivate you. Join me as we explore how to bring this vibrant dish to your table!
Octopus and potato salad
By: Silvana Lanzetta
Have you ever tried the octopus and potato salad? It’s a golden gem from Italian cuisine. Honestly, it’s hard for me to resist. The way octopus and potatoes meld together? It’s pure magic. You can have it as a starter, main, or even a cheeky snack. Seriously, if you’ve never given it a go, you’re missing out!
Now, a trip down memory lane: every summer, as the Neapolitan sun blazed, this salad was THE thing in my house. I can still picture diving into the dish as soon as mum placed it on the table, tearing off a piece of fresh bread to soak up that luscious sauce. So delicious!!!
And every bite is wrapped up in warm, fuzzy memories of family times. It’s more than just food; it’s a slice of my childhood.
Funny thing, though – my kids cringe at the idea of eating octopus. I know, right? Such a shame because they’re missing out on this nutritious goodness.
But hey, mum’s on a mission. I’ll keep serving octopus and potato salad till they fall in love!
Porta Nolana’s fish market, Naples
My childhood friend, Maurizio -a fishing enthusiast- proudly showing the octopus he just caught
A Little Backstory on Octopus and Potato Salad
So, where did this epic combo come from? The origins of this dish are kinda like an old legend.
Some stories whisk it back to a Sicilian brainstorm from the 16th century or a Genoese twist in the 19th. And given Italy’s coastline, it’s no wonder that regions from tip to toe have their own tales about it. Though the Genoese added a sprinkle of green beans to their version, who knows, maybe it started in some other coastal nook of Italy?
History geek moment: Remember Columbus and his 1492 adventure? That’s when potatoes made their debut in Europe. And for a while, folks were scratching their heads, wondering how to cook these newbies.
Fast forward to the 16th century, and they became a hit! Octopus, on the other hand, was an old favourite – heck, there’s even a 1400 BC Cretan vase with an octopus recipe painted on it! Whether it’s Sicily or Campania leading the charge on this dish doesn’t really matter. The main takeaway? It’s delish, wholesome, and packed with nutrients.
So, what are you waiting for? Give it a whirl. I bet it’ll become your new favourite!
The octopus is a great source of lean protein, supporting muscle health, while the extra virgin olive oil adds heart-healthy fats. Potatoes offer complex carbohydrates for sustained energy. Octopus and potato salad is a perfect addition to a balanced diet. Fresh herbs like parsley and lemon add flavour without extra calories, making this a nutritious and versatile dish that embraces Italian culinary tradition.
- Proteins 36% 36%
- Carbs 34% 34%
- Fats 30% 30%
The ingredients for octopus and potato salad
Feeling bewildered with choosing the right octopus for that mouth-watering octopus and potato salad? Well, worry no more! Come along with me on a little seafood shopping adventure, and we’ll pick the perfect octopus together.
What you’re looking for is the Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris), the one with a double row of suckers. Cool, right? And trust me, it’s not just for show; this octopus adds a brilliant taste and texture to our salad. Firm yet tender, its rich flavour is a game-changer!
Now, let’s talk freshness. Think of it as our three golden rules:
- Eye Test: You want that octopus to shine, almost winking at you from the display! Steer clear of anything that looks dry or dull.
- The Sniff Test: Don’t be shy; lean in for a sniff. You’re looking for that fresh ocean breeze, not a fishy foulness.
- Colour Check: We’re talking about a lovely light grey or a delicate reddish-pink. If it looks good, it probably is!
Size-wise, aim for a medium one, about 1 to 1.5 kilograms. It’s the sweet spot for cooking evenly and tasting melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Feeling adventurous or a bit lazy? You can buy it cleaned or whole. Either way, it’s fun! And if you can, go for sustainable options; it’s just one more way to love our planet.
Got an extra-large octopus? Here’s my secret tip: Pop it in the freezer overnight. It’s all about tenderising, and I swear by freezing and thawing, even if it’s fresh. Try it out!
So, grab your shopping basket, have a chat with your friendly fishmonger, and remember, picking the right octopus is an exciting adventure, not a pesky chore. You’ve got this!
Lemon in the octopus and potato salad isn’t just an afterthought; it plays a pivotal role in brightening and balancing the dish! But let’s be clear, we’re talking about fresh, unwaxed lemons here, not that artificial bottled juice.
Let’s dive into the zesty world of lemons and their role in this iconic salad.
Imagine the meaty, rich taste of octopus and the earthy goodness of potatoes. As wonderful as they are, they can feel a tad heavy on their own. Enter the lemon. With its vibrant, zesty tang, lemon cuts through the richness, giving the dish a refreshing lift. It’s like a gust of Mediterranean sea breeze on a sunny day!
Now, why fresh, unwaxed lemons? Well, the difference in flavour is night and day. Fresh lemons impart a natural brightness that bottled juice simply can’t replicate. Unwaxed lemons ensure that you’re getting pure, untainted zest and juice, free from any waxy or chemical coatings. The flavour is authentic and pure, adding an incomparable freshness to your dish.
Beyond its lively taste, the lemon’s acidity also works wonders in terms of balance. It contrasts the slight sweetness of the potatoes and complements the oceanic notes of the octopus. This balance ensures that every bite is harmonious and moreish.
And let’s not forget its aromatic qualities. The scent of freshly squeezed lemon over the salad is simply invigorating. It awakens the senses and primes your palate for the culinary delight that’s about to ensue.
In essence, while it might seem like just a squeeze or zest, lemon is the unsung hero of the octopus and potato salad. It’s the ingredient that binds everything together, making the dish sing with flavour and freshness. So, when it comes to choosing the lemon for this dish, reach for the real deal: fresh, unwaxed lemons.
The texture of the octopus is kind of meaty and unique. So, you need a potato that’s going to complement that, not fight against it. That’s where waxy potatoes come in. Think ‘Charlotte,’ ‘Jersey Royals,’ or even ‘Fingerlings’ if you can find them. They’ve got this lovely firm and creamy texture that’s just perfect with octopus.
Now, make sure you’re getting ones that feel firm and look nice and smooth. No green bits or sprouting eyes. And try to pick ones that are all about the same size, so they cook evenly.
Oh, and a little cooking tip for you: Start them in cold, salted water and then bring them to a boil. It helps them cook evenly, and they taste better that way. And here’s another trick, cook them with the skin on, then peel once they’re cooked. This prevents them from absorbing too much water, keeping that perfect firm texture.
And don’t forget to go local if you can. Fresher taste and you get to support the local farmers. Win-win!
Alright, let’s chat parsley! Arenyou torn about which type to toss into your octopus and potato salad? Let me save you the pondering: go straight for the flat-leaf! Also known as Italian parsley, this beauty is the rock star of the parsley world for this dish.
Why, you ask? Well, flat-leaf parsley packs this wonderfully bold, slightly peppery punch that just sings alongside octopus. Plus, those flat leaves? Not only do they look all fancy sprinkled over the salad, but they also add a delightful texture that’s a treat for the eyes and the palate.
Next time you’re out shopping, hunt for that lush, vibrant green bunch. Avoid anything that’s gone a bit yellow or wilted. Give it a little sniff – you’re looking for that fresh, earthy aroma. Crisp stems? That’s a winner right there!
For our spectacular octopus and potato salad, you’ll want something special but not overpowering.
You’re aiming for the Goldilocks zone of olive oils: not too robust that it overshadows the octopus, but not too mild that it gets lost. A good extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) with a well-balanced flavour will do wonders for your dish.
Think fruity with a hint of pepper or bitterness. If you can find one from the coastal regions of Italy or Greece, you’re really onto something! Those oils tend to have a fresh, clean taste that pairs perfectly with seafood.
You’ll want an oil that tastes like freshly cut grass with a clean finish. Avoid anything musty or fusty.
Remember, it’s not just about flavour; it’s also about quality. Look for cold-pressed and unrefined on the label. That means it’s been made without heat or chemicals, which can ruin the taste.
If you’re ever lucky enough to find an olive oil tasting at a market or specialty shop, don’t pass it up! It’s a fantastic way to find the oil that suits your taste best.
You might be scratching your head, wondering why I’ve left out garlic in this recipe for octopus and potato salad. Believe it or not, it’s intentional, not a mistake. I know, garlic’s a favourite for many, but in this delicate and tasty salad, its strong flavour can become a bit of a scene-stealer. It has the potential to tip the harmonious balance we’re aiming for.
If your heart’s set on garlic, and you just can’t imagine the dish without it, I hear you! But let’s tread carefully. Go for half a clove, minced very finely. That way, you’ll get a whisper of garlic without overpowering the other beautiful flavours in the salad. Trust me on this one; sometimes, less really is more.
How to make your delicious octopus and potato salad
Frequently Asked Questions
What food goes with octopus?
Octopus is a versatile seafood that pairs well with a variety of foods. Here are some accompaniments that complement its unique flavour:
As seen in the classic Italian dish, potatoes, whether boiled, roasted or mashed, pair excellently with octopus.
2. Citrus Fruits:
Lemon, lime, and even orange can enhance the flavour of octopus, either as a garnish or in a sauce.
3. Fresh Herbs:
Parsley, coriander, and chives can lend a fresh touch to octopus dishes.
Grilled or roasted veggies, particularly Mediterranean vegetables like aubergines, peppers, and courgettes, complement octopus.
5. Rice and Grains:
Octopus can be served atop a bed of risotto, quinoa, or other grains, soaking up any accompanying sauces.
Chickpeas, beans, or lentils can be used in salads or sides with octopus.
7. Garlic and Olive Oil:
A simple garlic and olive oil dressing can enhance the octopus’s natural flavours.
For those who like a bit of heat, chillies can be added to octopus dishes to give a spicy kick.
A crisp white wine, such as Albariño or Vermentino, is a classic pairing with octopus.
10. Aioli or Mayonnaise:
These can be used as a dip or dressing for grilled or boiled octopus.
Selecting one or a combination of the above can help create a harmonious dish centred around the delicate and unique flavour of octopus.
How to make the most tender octopus?
Making tender octopus is an art that requires patience and some culinary tricks. Here’s how to achieve the most tender octopus, perfect for a variety of dishes:
1.Freezing Before Cooking:
Freezing the octopus before cooking helps to break down its fibres, leading to a softer texture. If your octopus is fresh, freeze it overnight, then thaw before cooking.
2. Tenderise by Dipping:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Holding the octopus by the head, dip the tentacles into the boiling water for a few seconds and then lift. Repeat this process three times to begin the tenderising process.
3. Slow Cooking:
Once the octopus is cleaned and ready, place it in a pot of cold water with some sea salt. Slowly bring the water to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cooking the octopus gently over low heat ensures that it becomes tender without getting tough.
4. Simmer with a Cork:
Some chefs swear by adding a wine cork to the simmering water. The enzymes in the cork are believed to help tenderise the octopus further.
5. Checking for Tenderness:
The cooking time will depend on the size of the octopus, generally ranging from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. Use a fork to check for tenderness. If it easily pierces the thickest part of the tentacle, the octopus is ready.
6. Cool in its Cooking Liquid:
Turn off the heat and allow the octopus to cool in its cooking liquid. This gradual cooling helps to keep it tender.
7. Grilling or Searing:
If you wish to grill or sear the octopus afterwards, do so quickly over high heat to add flavour without losing tenderness.
8. Avoid Overcooking:
Octopus can become rubbery if overcooked, so it’s vital to monitor the cooking process closely.
If you plan to serve the octopus cold, such as in a salad, marinating it can add both flavour and additional tenderness.
10. Use a Pressure Cooker:
A pressure cooker can also be used to tenderise octopus quickly. Cook on high pressure for about 20 minutes, then release the pressure naturally.
By following these steps and focusing on gentle, slow cooking, you can achieve succulent and tender octopus that’s perfect for a range of culinary creations.
Do I need to boil the octopus before grilling it?
Yes, boiling the octopus before grilling it is a crucial step in achieving a tender texture. Octopus is naturally quite tough, and grilling it directly without boiling would result in a rubbery and chewy texture.
Here’s a simple guide to the process:
1. Clean and Prepare the Octopus:
If not already cleaned, remove the eyes, beak, ink sac, and insides. Rinse well.
2. Freezing (Optional):
Freezing the octopus overnight can help break down the fibres, making it more tender.
3. Tenderise by Dipping:
Dip the tentacles in boiling water three times to start the tenderising process.
4. Boil the Octopus:
Place the octopus in a pot with enough water to cover it, adding some salt or other flavourings if desired. Simmer gently for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on size, until tender.
5. Cool and Drain:
Allow the octopus to cool in its cooking liquid, then drain.
6. Marinate (Optional):
Marinating the boiled octopus in olive oil, lemon juice, herbs, or other seasonings can add flavour and further tenderise it.
7. Grill the Octopus:
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Grill the octopus for a few minutes on each side, just long enough to get some char and impart the grilled flavour.
8. Serve Immediately:
Slice, season to taste, and serve hot.
Boiling before grilling ensures that the octopus is cooked through and tender, while the grilling adds a delightful smoky flavour and charred texture. It’s the combination of these two cooking methods that brings out the best in this seafood delicacy.
How do you make octopus taste good?
Making octopus taste good involves proper preparation, cooking, and seasoning. Here’s a general guide to bring out the best in octopus:
1. Cleaning and Preparation:
If your octopus isn’t pre-cleaned, remove the eyes, beak, and ink sac. Rinse it well to remove any residual slime or grit.
Octopus can be quite tough, so it needs to be tenderised. Freezing overnight or dipping it several times in boiling water helps break down the fibres. Simmering it gently in water, wine, or a seasoned broth until tender is usually the next step.
Like any protein, octopus benefits from thoughtful seasoning. Simple salt and pepper can be enough, but garlic, chilli flakes, olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, and other robust flavours can enhance the taste.
4. Cooking Methods:
Grilling, roasting, sautéing, or stewing the octopus after boiling can add complexity to the texture and flavour. Grilling adds a smoky note, while a slow braise can impart richness and depth.
5. Serving Suggestions:
Think about the accompaniments. Octopus pairs well with a variety of ingredients, from fresh vegetables and citrus fruits to potatoes and legumes.
6. Avoid Overcooking:
Overcooked octopus becomes rubbery and unappetising. Simmering it gently until just tender and then applying high heat briefly (if grilling or sautéing) helps to avoid this pitfall.
7. Use Fresh or Properly Thawed Octopus:
If using frozen octopus, ensure that it is thawed properly to maintain the texture and flavour.
By paying attention to the preparation, seasoning, and cooking method, you can make octopus taste incredibly good. Experimenting with different herbs, spices, and cooking techniques will allow you to find the combination that suits your palate. Whether you prefer a simple grilled preparation or a rich, slow-cooked stew, octopus can be a delightful and flavourful dish with a bit of care and creativity.
What vegetables go well with octopus?
Octopus pairs beautifully with a variety of vegetables, creating a delightful balance of flavours and textures. Here are some vegetables that go well with octopus:
A classic pairing, often seen in Mediterranean dishes, providing a comforting and hearty base.
Fresh or sun-dried, tomatoes add brightness and acidity that complements the rich flavour of octopus.
Both sweet bell peppers and spicy chilli peppers can add colour and depth of flavour.
Its licorice-like flavour can offer an interesting contrast, especially when roasted or used in salads.
5. Onions and Garlic:
Used as a base in many recipes, they add sweetness and aroma.
6. Green Beans:
A traditional accompaniment in some regional dishes, they provide texture and fresh flavour.
7. Olives and Capers:
While not vegetables in the strictest sense, these can add a briny, piquant note that pairs well with octopus.
8. Courgettes (Zucchini):
Sautéed or grilled, courgettes add a delicate flavour that doesn’t overpower the octopus.
9. Spinach and Swiss Chard:
These leafy greens can be wilted down and seasoned to provide a nutritious backdrop to the dish.
10. Aubergines (Eggplant):
Roasted or grilled aubergines can add a rich and smoky flavour that complements the taste of octopus.
11. Lemon and Citrus Fruits:
Though not vegetables, citrus often accompanies octopus, enhancing its flavour with a zesty twist.
Incorporating fresh herbs like parsley, thyme, or oregano can elevate the entire dish.
When preparing octopus with vegetables, consider the cooking method and the desired balance of flavours. Grilled octopus might pair wonderfully with a fresh tomato and cucumber salad, while a slow-cooked octopus stew might benefit from hearty root vegetables. Experimenting with different combinations will help you find the perfect blend for your palate and the specific preparation of octopus you’re creating.
“Ciao, I’m Silvana, a fourth-generation pasta artisan from Napoli with a lifetime of experience! I began making pasta at the tender age of 5 under the watchful eye of my pasta-making generalissimo, my granny. Through her guidance, I’ve become a master in crafting traditional pasta dishes. Since 2014, I have been teaching pasta making classes in London, sharing my expertise with aspiring pasta enthusiasts. I’ve also had the privilege of showcasing my knowledge on BBC and in national newspapers like The Sun and iNews, and held pasta making demonstration in Harrods. Join me in exploring the world of Italian pasta and let’s create unforgettable culinary experiences together!”