There are some things that are just too much trouble to cook at home. Things I only ever order in a restaurant. Deep fried artichokes, for instance. Carciofi alla Giudea are just a lot of work – and a lot of oil and spatter – for something so much easier to order here in a restaurant in Rome.
On the other hand, there are things that I cook at home because I just can’t get them in a restaurant in Rome. Tacos, chili or anything vaguely Tex-Mex is just going to be disappointing (if not disgusting) outside of the comfort of my own kitchen.
And I do understand why everyone has there own variations on this: things they would never cook at home. But I was really surprised by my sister’s comment the other day. We almost always have a discussion at some point during the day about what to make for dinner. I told her I was making octopus and her response was “Oh, that’s way too complicated. That’s a restaurant kind of thing.”
Actually, the most difficult thing about making octopus is finding one to buy. Once you’ve got that part out of the way, you basically just plunk it in a pot and cook it.
I learned how to cook octopus from my mother in law, Rosa. She lives in Bari where it is incredibly easy to get any kind of fresh seafood. And as she often tells me, she was brought up with hot and cold running fresh fish. “Siamo gente del mare”, we are people of the sea.
When she first explained this recipe I thought she was leaving something out. It just seemed too simple. “You put the octopus in a pot, with some oil, a clove of garlic and then you cook it.” I of course, being a know-it-all, assumed she had made a mistake. “You forgot to mention the water.”
“No, it cooks in it’s own water.” And in fact, that is the name of this recipe “Polpo all’acqua sua”, octopus in it’s own water.
And in fact, when octopus cooks, it looses almost a third of its weight. In this recipe, the liquid that comes out of the octopus becomes the fishy broth in which it cooks.
The trick with octopus is letting it cook long enough. It usually takes at least 45 minutes to become tender, but you can make sure by testing it along the way.
The best way to serve it is in a deep bowl, surrounded by a puddle of broth. With, of course, as many slices of crusty bread as you need to sop it all up. In the comfort of your own home.
octopus in it’s own water
1 kilo / 2 pounds Octopus (you might need 2 small ones)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
Have the fish monger clean the octopus for you. If you’re buying a frozen one, it should already be clean. If your using a large one, you should divide it, cutting each of the tentacles into separate ‘legs’.
Pour the olive oil into a heavy bottomed pot. Add the garlic cloves, and the octopus. Turn on heat to medium, and cover.
Cook until done. This should take at least 45 minutes, but could take up to an hour. To test for doneness just take one of the pieces out and cut a piece off and taste it. It should be firm, but very easy to chew.