Soft octopus: the expert tells how to choose and cook it – Italian Cuisine


How to do the soft octopus? It is the king of shellfish, one of the most appreciated and sought after fish products. As long as it is of quality. If indeed a good one octopus it turns out to be tasty, savory and soft, the poor one has little flavor and, above all, tough and rubbery meat.
The first defect is to be attributed to provenance, the second to the way it is treaty before the sale and, at home, before cooking.

171526The number one pitfall represents hardness and rubberiness: it is a moment indeed to transform a delicious mollusk into a "shoe sole". There are many tricks, starting with freezer, often paradoxically recommended (and for various purposes) with fresh fish.

Do not spend time instead in cooking with suighero caps, since it is an example of absolutely wrong folk wisdom. This tradition is born among fishermen, but with all other purposes.

The fishermen instead are usual beat them on the rocks and it is said that if freshly caught, the octopus actually softens.

There are many recipes, from octopus with potatoes to gallega, and the traditions associated with its cooking, which in some cases involve the removal of skin and suckers, among the most varied.

To clarify all these aspects we went to the fish market with Sandra Ciciriello (*), partner of Viviana Varese in their Alice Restaurant (click here), in Milan.


The first clarification of Sandra is known: "Octopus is only what it has two rows of suction cups along the tentacles ". The molluscs that have only one are of other species, such as the dormice.
Then, he settles once and for all the diatribe between octopus and octopus: "They are the same shellfish and today, by law, the name of sale in the fish market can only be octopus".

Having established what we are buying, let's see how to understand if it is a good buy.

Nostrano and fresh
To begin with, you need to check the fishing area that – we remember – must always be indicated on the label. The octopus national it is very precious, fished on the coasts of the Tirreno as on those ofAdriatic, from Liguria to Puglia, from Tuscany to Sicily.
It can arrive on the benches still alive, as Sandra shows us touching a tentacle making us notice how the suction cups retract suddenly.
Moreover, the octopus of the day has a color very clear, even creamy white (especially under the head), which gradually becomes pink, darker and gray as the mollusk "ages".


Defrosted from Morocco
Returning to the origin, the octopus habitat, which is caught all year round, extends to the whole Mediterranean. Outside Italy, the best comes from Morocco, both from the coasts overlooking the Mare Nostrum and from the Atlantic ones: "In the North African country, octopus fishing has for some years quota", says Ciciriello." The fishermen have shares that they must respect, and this affects the conservation of the species and the quality, which is excellent: from Morocco comes the absolute best octopus frozen, that is defrosted at the point of sale ".

Frozen? But isn't it always better to buy fresh fish? The octopus is the exception that confirms the rule: "Cold is the best way to enervate the meat of the octopus. This is why putting the fresh one day in the freezer, then thawing and cooking it, is a great way to have a tender octopus after cooking. "

Traditional curling
The other system is "Curl it": "At home I used to put the octopus in a basket (perfect for the salad spinner) with salt and ice, then I placed it in the sink. back and forth, 'ninnandolo', for about a quarter of an hour: the octopus made foam and emitted dark water, almost black. At the end of the treatment, he was ready for cooking ".

Even today this technique is adopted, as Sandra reminds us, at port of Bari where the fishermen gather the octopuses in big baskets that shake on the pier.

The best cooking
Back home with the best octopus on the market (remembering that the defrost is consumed within 24 hours), it's time to cook it. A delicate phase that, however, with the right tricks, it is impossible to go wrong.

There is a Neapolitan saying which reads: "The octopus is cooked in his water"." Boiling it in so much water, the flavor is lost ", explains Sandra." The best thing is to put it with just a finger of water in the casserole or even in pressure cooker, as Viviana does for her recipe ". Covered and brought to the fire, during cooking the octopus itself will emit a abundant liquid, red and savory that the chef uses, in small quantities, making it thicken to create a accompanying sauce.

THE times they are quite long, about 40-50 minutes for a one kilo octopus, which are reduced to about twenty in a pressure cooker. In all cases the octopus is cooked to perfection when a toothpick, inserted between the tentacles and the head, easily enters.

Remember then don't salt it: in general, it is already sufficiently tasty and in case you can adjust the flavor later.

Once boiled, the octopus is the perfect base for many recipes, from thesalad with potatoes to a pasta sauce.To enhance and intensify the marine taste, cooking is ideal to the plate. It is sufficient to scald it, for 3-4 minutes, over high heat in a non-stick pan with a lid, or on a cast iron plate. Or try the even more delicious alternative, toasting it on the embers of the barbecue.
In all cases, you will bring to the table a large dish that, following the advice of the expert, will be impeccable.

Roberta Fontana

(*) Sandra Ciciriello is an authority on the subject, that's why.
"I have been dealing with fish for thirty years. I started in the markets, I became a buyer turning all the suppliers in Italy and participating in auctions to bring the best of fish from Chioggia to Manfredonia, from Viareggio to Anzio. in retail, I had my own retail business, I treated the fresh, the preserved, the frozen … ".

All this before entering, in 2003, the adventure in catering. Today he is maître, sommelier and tireless business woman: with Viviana they have recently inaugurated, within Eataly Emerald (click here), Alice's Gastronomy.
But he never stopped loving and buying the best fish. And walking with her through the fish market stalls is a fascinating journey.

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