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What we’re cooking today: Octopus stew

What we’re cooking today: Octopus stew
Octopus stew with potatoes and lemon. (Photo: Georgina Crouth)

If you’re a sucker for octopus, but haven't prepared it yourself, try this recipe. You could be converted.

They’re the stuff of legend and nightmares, and probably the strangest creatures on Earth: the octopus. Once depicted as the Kraken, a sea monster said to have appeared off the coasts of Norway, interest in the alien-looking creature has certainly picked up since the 2020 hit, My Octopus Teacher. 

Controversially in some communities, these eight-legged creatures (which have almost 2,000 suckers and three hearts) are now also showing up more often on our plates, coveted for their mild-tasting delicate meat. 

Never say never

The biggest markets for octopus are in the East (South Korea and Japan) and the Mediterranean, particularly Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy. 

In the United States, where demand for octopus is growing, YouGov asked a sample of 1,000 American respondents whether it is morally acceptable or not to eat a number of animals under normal circumstances. The vast majority of respondents had no problem eating salmon, chicken and beef, but the octopus somehow resonated with more adults, with one in four saying it was unacceptable to eat them, reported Statista.

In the same survey, YouGov asked which species respondents would save in a sinking boat scenario, people or animals. 

When given the choice of saving 100 pigs rather than one person, 10% voted in favour of the pigs and 80% the person. 

With dogs, 23% chose to save 100 dogs and 61% a person. 

Most often, respondents based their decisions that some are more acceptable food options than others on whether the species was rare or endangered (61% said this was “very important”), whether or not the animal frequently carries diseases (57%), whether the animal is commonly kept as a pet (48%) and whether they would have a sentimental attachment to the animal (45%).

Great to eat

Critics argue they are highly sentient and experience a range of emotions so should therefore not be eaten but one could (and should) argue the same for cattle, sheep, chickens and other animals. Then ask: how can farming be done better and more sustainably? And follow with, how can we support such farmers?

Those debates aside, octopus is certainly a delicious and versatile seafood. Living at the coast means I often spot it at my local Pick n Pay and Spar; if they don’t have it in stock, Fish4Africa in Woodstock or the ladies at the Hout Bay Harbour often do.

Here’s a recipe for Portuguese-style baked octopus with potatoes and lemon. Serve with rice or crusty bread to mop up the gravy.

Octopus stew with potatoes and lemon

Ingredients:

2kg octopus

½ cup of wine vinegar

1 halved onion

1 bay leaf

About two litres of water

2 onions, chopped

Olive oil

800g baby potatoes or peeled and halved potatoes

4 cloves garlic, chopped and crushed

2 bay leaves

Generous handful of parsley, washed and chopped

Black pepper and salt to taste

Juice of about two lemons

Method:

If it hasn’t been cleaned yet, wash the octopus, and remove the beak and ink sac. Place the octopus in a pot of boiling salted water that just covers it, add vinegar, halved onion and bay leaf. Cover with lid. Boil slowly for about three hours. The octopus will be ready when a sharp knife inserted into the thickest part of the leg slips in easily. Remove from water and drain. Chop into generous pieces and set aside.

In the meantime, sauté your onions in olive oil, add garlic and potatoes. Add a little water and boil slowly until potatoes are almost tender. Add the rest of your ingredients (reserving some fresh parsley and garlic to add just before serving) and cook slowly for a further 10 minutes. Adjust the seasoning, add fresh lemon juice and a splash of olive oil, and serve. DM

Tony Jackman returns next week.

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