When freshly caught, octopus can be tough. I remember that the fishermen would beat the octopus with a wooden mallet or against the sea rocks to render them tender. The defrosted octopus that you buy at the fishmonger has been tenderized by the freezing process and is quite good. Some of the best octopus I have found in the market comes from Mexico and weighs sixteen to twenty ounces each. At this size, they are meaty enough but tender. I love this simple method for cooking whole octopus so it explodes with flavor. You just put it in a heavy pan and let it cook very slowly (with only olive oil, sliced onions, and olives to season it) for a couple of hours. As it cooks, its releases all of its natural, tasty water, which serves as a braising liquid.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley
- 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon peperoncino (crushed red pepper)
- Two 1¼ pound octopus, cleaned
- Basic Polenta, optional
Combine the olive oil, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, and peperoncino in a wide, heavy casserole. Place the octopus head side down into the casserole and place the casserole over medium heat. When the liquid in the casserole begins to simmer, adjust the heat to very low. Cover the casserole and cook, shaking gently occasionally, until a fork senses a little resistance but slides out easily when poked into the thickest part of an octopus tentacle, 45 minutes to 1 hour. The cooking liquid should be syrupy, purple reddish in color, and flavorful.
Meanwhile, prepare the polenta, if using.
Place the octopus side by side on a large platter and spoon the cooking liquid around them. With scissors, cut each octopus in three somewhat equal body parts with some tentacles attached to each. Spoon some polenta onto each plate and top with a portion of octopus and some of the juices, or serve the polenta family style separately.