In 1979 I attended an IBM Systems Operator Certification program in Tempe, AZ. At that time reel-to-reel magnetic tape was still being used in systems and cobal was the programming language of choice. My most memorable experience, besides graduation ceremonies and floating the Mesa River in inner-tubes, was a romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant in Phoenix. The restaurant was elegant with white linens and silver cutlery, the service was attentive, and the starter dish, Octopus salad, was to die for. From the first bite, I was in love. It was not rubbery, nor fishy tasting, but lemony and salty with capers, creamy with olive oil and crunchy with celery.
I moved to Alaska shortly thereafter, where octopus is fresh caught, blanched to a coral color, and the tenacles are as big as tennis racket handles. In fact, whole octopi are so large in the Aleutian Islands that one tenacle was enough for 6 servings of this starter dish. The easiest way to the strip the skin off the tenacles was with a boning knife. Once the tenacles were stripped and diced, it was easy to marinate and throw together on a bed of lettuce, garnish with parsley and serve with a crostini.
You can leave the skin on if you prefer, I don’t, unless the octopus is very skinny as they are in the South Pacific. Then I prefer them really well cooked, until the skin turns purple, and simmered in coconut milk. That’s the Polynesian method and it is very tasty also.
Whatever octopi you use for this dish, pulpos from Mexico, or larger varieties from the Pacific Northwest, be sure to include the tips of the tenacles for extra crunch, remove the beeks and clean the heads. The ink from the heads can be used to color fresh pasta dough.
- 1 lb octopus, blanched, cleaned, diced the size of fresh peas
- 4 lemons, 3 juiced and 1 cut into wedges for garnish
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 5-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 shallot, chopped finely
- 2 Tbsp capers
- 2 Tbsp red pimento, diced
- black ripe olives to taste
- 2 ribs of celery, diced
- handful of parsley, chopped finely, reserve 1/4 cup for garnish
- 3-4 dashes Tabasco sauce
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 1 bunch romaine lettuce, chopped coarsely
- Mix all ingredients except lettuce in a glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
- Place a mound of lettuce on each of 6 cold serving plates, top with 1/2 cup of marinated octopus.
- Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.
- Serve with crackers or toasted crostini.