It’s probably wrong to eat baby octopus isn’t it? I haven’t looked it up because I may not like what I find. I mean, they’re all small or whatever and we all know that’s supposed to be wrong. Tasty though, perfect for BBQ’s and CHEAP: £1.99 for a bag of 25 odd (frozen) from the Asian supermarket. Billy bargain. We skewered and char-grilled them on the BBQ.
I thought they deserved a good send off, so I lay them to rest on a comfortable Thai-style bedding of shredded things: practically seedless baby cucumbers, spring onions and herbs dressed with plenty of chilli, lime and fish sauce. I wondered if the sweetness of a seriously ripe mango might be pushing things but the flavour worked even though the texture wasn’t perfect.
There is something quite challenging about eating octopus. I remember well the fear I faced when tackling my first, full-size beasty; he also arrived frozen and went from mysterious, solid and portable to formless and slippery as hell. After I’d manned up though, all I had were thoughts of bite-size chunks scattered amongst just-cooked potatoes dusted with paprika and parsley and slugged with good olive oil. Oh I want it again.
Small octopus are a good starting point if you’re squeamish about these things. Our neighbour stuck his head over the balcony to take a look while we were cooking them and he seemed quite interested; I’ve only ever seen the man grill a sausage or burger. He let himself down shortly afterwards with the admission that he uses a gas BBQ. We berated him appropriately and moved on.
You want to cook your octopus fast so get the BBQ very hot – the coals need to be white before you start grilling. It helps with tentacles (be it squid or octopus) to try and drape them across the grill to stop them falling between the rungs and burning. A few minutes each side will do it. The resulting flesh should be tender, the tentacles lightly charred.
Someone once told me that it’s wrong to eat octopus because they are intelligent, as animals go. I’m not sure how that even makes any sense but I believe I answered the argument with one word: pig. Surely swine are a case for us to favour eating beasts with more intellectual capacity? I bet a dolphin would taste amazing. Not right though is it. I’m also not a fan of brains – the equivalent of eating the whole of an animals’ intelligence in one fell swoop. The creamy texture weirds me out. This argument is going nowhere but I am clear on one point: I couldn’t give a flying cephalopod’s arse how the octopus would score on the WAIS-R, fact is they make damn good eating.
Char-grilled baby octopus salad
(The octopuses need a bit of time in the marinade (a few hours) so bear this in mind).
Approximately 25 baby octopuses. You are most likely to find these frozen in Asian supermarkets but if you can’t, just substitute with squid or full size octopus. Defrost them thoroughly before using.
4 baby cucumbers or 1 full-size large cucumber, de-seeded and cut into thin strips
1 handful mint leaves, shredded
1 handful coriander leaves, picked from the stalks and left whole
1 large mango, cut into strips. I find the easiest way to do this is to cut around the stone so you have two cheesk (or use a totally unnecessary but brilliant ‘mango stoner‘ to get the same effect. Then score the cheeks into strips before cutting underneath away from the skin.
4 large or 6 small spring onions, cut into strips. You can make them curly if you are having people over or feeling enthusiastic like I was by plunging them into iced water for 20 minutes or so.
1/2 iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
For the marinade/dressing
1 mild red chilli, finely diced
Juice of 1-2 limes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
5 limes leaves, shredded (optional)
1 smallish (3cm square) cube ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon oil, for cooking the octopus
Begin by making the marinade/dressing. (I make my dressings using a pestle and mortar but if you don’t have one then use a small blender or just crush your non-liquid ingredients then shake everything up in an empty jam jar). Pound your garlic and ginger with the merest pinch of salt (fish sauce is salty) until they resemble a paste. Add the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, lime leaves and chilli and mix well. Taste and adjust the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar as you see fit.
Use a third of this mixture to marinade the octopus, plus the tablespoon of oil. Rub it all over them and refrigerate for about 3-4 hours.
Light the BBQ about 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook them. When you’re ready thread them onto skewers (soaked in cold water for an hour if they are wooden) and grill for a few minutes each side until tender and slightly charred.
Mix the lettuce, spring onions, mango, herbs and cucumber together in a bowl and dress them with another third of the dressing. Arrange on a plate then scatter the octopus on top and drizzle the remaining third of the dressing over the top.