Octopus is delicious. If the only octopus you’ve had is the kind sitting on a ball of rice, you need to try it again. Try it grilled Mediterranean style or stewed, like in this Spanish style octopus stew inspired by a dish I had on Arrecife, one of the Spanish Canary islands. Cooked this way, octopus loses its toughness and becomes delicate and tender. Paired with potatoes, mushrooms, and lots of paprika, this is one of those rich and satisfying recipes that highlight octopus to perfection.
Now the only thing you have to conquer is cooking the octopus. I purchase mine fresh or frozen from a seafood market right on the bay. Handling a raw octopus isn’t for the faint hearted. I’m not saying it’s difficult. It’s very easy. But you do have to cook and clean a somewhat disturbing-looking creature. The trick is to dunk the whole octopus in boiling water before you cut it up. This will magically transform a soggy, limp octopus into a firm one that is much easier to handle. Once it’s chopped up into bite-size chunks, the rest is cake. Just throw your ingredients in a pot and let it stew for a few hours.
A few hours? Yes. Octopus is also one of the few seafood items that benefits from a long cooking time. I tried to find other seafood that you can cook like this, but after a not-so-lengthy Google search, I came up with nothing. According to the experts, ALL seafood should be cooked only 10 minutes. Not the octopus. This creature benefits from cooking in its own juices for 4 or 5 hours (or beating with a plank–something for the more advanced home cook).
I used a 1 1/2 pound fresh octopus for this dish. It looks like a lot, but once the moisture is released, octopus shrinks vastly in size. If you are using frozen octopus, allow it to thaw in the refrigerator first. To prepare, bring a large pot of unsalted water to a hard boil. Place the whole octopus in the boiling water and cook for 8-10 minutes. If you are using several smaller octopus, boil for 2-5 minutes.
You will know the octopus is ready when the color changes from grayish brown to a reddish tone and the flesh becomes firm.
Remove the octopus from the water and allow it to cool on a cutting board. Now chop the legs into 2” pieces, moving up to the head. Get in there, cutting the “tube-like” muscles as close to the head as possible. Stop cutting when you get about an inch from the center point—where the beak is. You don’t want to eat this part. For large octopus, you toss the head as well. With baby octopus, leave the head on, making sure the beak has been removed.
Now you are ready to make your stew.
Sauté the onion and celery in olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, about 5 minutes until they are soft but not brown. Add the garlic and saffron and stir a few minutes more. Add the hot and sweet paprika, bay leaf, white wine and stock. Add the octopus and season with ¼ teaspoon of salt and black pepper. Bring to a low simmer, cover and cook for 3 hours.
Uncover the stew and add the potatoes and mushrooms. Cover and cook for another 40 minutes. Uncover and stir in lemon juice. Taste and season again with salt and pepper if needed. Stir in parsley right before serving.