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Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef Camille Becerra will go beyond the basics to help you tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.
Today: Never make tough, chewy octopus again.
For so long, there has been a lot of mystique surrounding the preparation of octopus. Everyone seems to only know how tough and chewy it can turn out, so they never have the courage to fit it into their repertoire. The truth of the matter is that it's truly one of the easiest types of fish to cook. Fish cookery in general is daunting, as there is a very small window in which it can go from perfectly cooked to overcooked. But octopus is different -- it is literally foolproof.
Another technique you shouldn't be afraid of: Breaking down a whole fish.
The process involves braising it over medium heat for 1 1/2 hours in a flavorful broth and then searing it until it develops a crunchy exterior. Adding a penny to the broth is a trick I picked up from the great Spanish chef Jose Andrés: He states that in the olden times, octopus was made in copper pots because the chemical reaction of the octopus and the copper gives the octopus a gorgeous reddish color when it is seared on the outside.
Here's how to do it:
Wash your octopus well and pat dry with a paper towel.
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan, then add oil and aromatics. I use lemon slices, whole garlic, quartered onion, whole peppercorns, chili, thyme, and basil. I like to start with the lemon and brown it a bit, as this intensifies the citrus flavor. Add the onion and garlic, then lower the heat. Add the spices and salt.
Another way to prepare your favorite cephalopod: Mediterranean Octopus Salad
Deglaze with 1 cup of white wine. Add enough additional liquid to just barely cover the octopus -- about 3 to 4 cups. Once the water comes to a boil, drop in a clean penny and a good couple pinches of salt.
Drop the octopus in carefully, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
When your time is up, remove the octopus from the poaching liquid. When it's cool enough to handle, cut off the tentacles from the body.
Get a pan piping hot with safflower or other neutral oil, and sear the octopus pieces on all sides. I like to serve mine with Red Pepper Aioli.
Photos by Tara Sgroi