“Pulpo a la gallega” is widely popular beyond Galicia (where it is known as “pulpo á feira”), and a cherished pintxo over to the East in the Basque Country, as well – bascially, it is cooked octopus, sometimes served over potatoes, with olive oil, coarse sea salt and pimentón picante (ground red pepper). It’s one of those Northern Spanish seafood things that are to die for, right up there with langostinos a la plancha.
Usually, people will buy the pulpo already canned and already prepared Galician-style (which tastes good, but it’s not cheap and did you ever check the list of extra ingredients in these cans?) or pay a lot of money for it at a bar. It’s cheaper (and tastier) to prepare the octopus yourself, though. And it’s not even very difficult!
I’ll admit that I always had some healthy respect for kraken – they’re big, and there’s those squishy, long tentacles, and that strange head and mouth, and, well, did I mention the squishy, long tentacles?
But this week, octopus was on sale or 6.95€/kg, so I decided to take it up with the tentacles!
As it turns out, octopus is a lot easier and less work-intensive to prepare than anchoas (anchovis) or txipirones (baby calamar). Let me apologize in advance to any Galician readers – I’m not Galician, and neither is my mother-in-law, but she has this friend who is a proper Galician grandma who gave her the recipe. I guess that’s as authentic as I can get without having married into Galicia!
Pulpo a la gallega (yields about 6 double rations as an entrée)
- 1 octopus (whatever size suits you – mine was nearly 2 kg)
- 1 onion (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 potato (small for a small octopus (up to 1kg), big or a big octopus)
- coarse sea salt
- olive oil (the virgin extra kind)
- pimentón picante (red pepper powder)
- First, you need to make sure whether the octopus has been frozen to break down the nerve cells (it’s either that, or banging it against hte wall by the tentacles until it’s soft, which is the traditional method – thanks to Sam’s “gayega” for the intel!), which is apparently the trick to the octopus coming out tender and lick-your-fingers good instead of resembling a bouncy chewing gum. If not, or if you aren’t sure, simply freeze the octopus for a minimum 48 hours. That does the trick, too.
- Before freezing the octopus, you need to clean it. In most cases, you’ll be sold the octopus without intestines, but with the jaws/mouth still attached, so you have to remove that first (there are several YouTube videos for instructions and visuals), then rinse the octopus under cold water. Then pad dry well, store in a freezer bag, and freeze.
- Once at least 48 hours have passed, let the octopus thaw slowly, in a sufficiently big bowl (I did it in the fridge, and my 2kg octopus needed nearly two days).
- In a large pot (with lid), bring water to a boil. I tried beforehand whether the octopus actually fit in there because those tentaclesare a little hard to calculate.
- Depending on the size of your octopus, peel and wash a small or large potato. Peel a medium-sized onion, too.
- Rinse the octopus once more. When the water in the pot is boiling, octopus the pulpo by its head and dunk it with the tentacles into the water three times. You’ll see that the tentacles start curling inward at that. I’m not sure what exactly this does, but the Galician grandma was particularly adamant about it (also, it’ll make you feel a bit like a Celtic wicca. Or like Ulrica in “Un ballo in maschera”).
- At the fourth time, let the whole octopus slide into the water and try to submerge it well (it will swim on top of the water, but try to arrange with as much of its surface as possible underwater). Add the potato, onion, and bay leaf.
- Simmer with lid on low heat “until the potato is cooked through” (quoting the Galcian grandma here). – I kept asking: “But how many minutes?” and was told once more “until the potato is done”. For a 2kg octopus, I needed 55 minutes, (also, I used a ginormous potato), I’ve seen recipes for 1kg that needed 45 minutes. With anything between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on the size of your octopus, you should be fine.
- After cooking is finished, pull the octopus off the heat and allow it settle a few minutes, which is apparently a trick so that the skin won’t peel off. I messed that part up since I drained the octopus directly, so I can’t report back on that.
- Drain the octupus, put it in a bowl and cut it into big pieves (first, sever the head and halve it, then cut off the tentacles one by one, then part the remaining body into pieces). All this works best with a pair of kitchen scissors.
- From there, choose how much you want to serve as a ration and cut that into small slices and pieces (again, the scissors work great, particularly with the tentacles).
- The rest keeps well for a few days in the fridge in a closed tupper box. Don’t be surprised to get up the next morning and find the box empty, though. It’s THAT GOOD.
- Drizzle olive oil over your ration, sprinkle with coarse sea salt (“coarse!” said the Galician grandma), and finish with a sprinkle of pimentón picante (red pepper powder).
- The proper Galicians serve this over the sliced, cooked potato. My potato wasn’t that great to begin with, so I ditched it and served it with fresh bread instead. You know that expression of “died and went to heaven”? It’s like that, only without the dying.