Octopus Salad “Mosaic” (Χταπόδι-σαλάτα-Μωσαϊκό)

Readers of this blog should know by now that Greek food goes beyond souvlaki, spanakopita and pastitsio. There’s nothing wrong with these dishes but as Greeks, we do not eat them every week. The traditional Greek diet is weighted towards vegetables and pulses, grains and bread, fruits and nuts and fish and seafood. It’s a cuisine that respects what the land and sea give and rarely is anything thrown out. In ancient times, being creative in the kitchen was survival – not part of a competition in Iron Chef BC!

One such animal that is enjoyed immensely by Greeks is the octopus. There are some who don’t like octopus (you’re nuts). There are others who won’t even try it (you’re close-minded) and the rest of us who adore this delicacy from the sea. Us Greeks feature octopus in stews, with pasta, pickled, roasted, grilled (my favourite) and in salads.

I had this salad last year in Greece at a slightly higher-end Psarotaverna (fish and seafood tavern) in Thessaloniki. This slices of octopus arrived at our table. A light topping of a Latholemono (oil & lemon dressing) was all that adorned this dish. The dish has an obvious  sex appeal….it looks beautiful. Even the most die-hard octopus hater will admit that this dish is “easy on the eye”. Me, I don’t have to have thin slices of octopus arrive at my table for me to eat it but I can’t turn away an octopus dish either.

Food is about texture, look, smell – all the senses with taste still being paramount. Octopus is one of those dishes that touches upon all my senses. From when I hold the octopus in my hands to rinse it, to the aroma of this gift of the sea, filling the kitchen with aromas that take me back to Greece and finally, tasting the tender octopus, planting me back in the taverna, enjoying the morsel of octopus.

This particular dish looks very much like a mosaic one finds in many of the ancients ruins found throughout Greece. Thus the name given to this dish, “mosaic”. Like in any other instance of cooking with octopus. It must be braised, softening before deciding on your preferred way to present the dish. Here, we’re presented octopus as salad. An appetizer or as us Greeks call it, a meze.

The basics of this dish are as follows: the octopus first is braised in its own liquid (along with a wine cork) until fork-tender. I first heard about throwing the cork into mix from Chef Mario Batali. He claims the enzymes in the cork help tenderize the beastie. It’s never harmed the dish and I do think it helps tenderize. Then we allow the octopus to cool and then roll it up in cling-wrap and tie it with butcher’s twine. The octopus is then thrown into the fridge to “set”. The next day, unwrap the tube of octopus and slice into thin rings and arrange on a plate of your choice.

The final step is to make a dressing of Greek olive oil, fresh lemon juice and herbs to bring out the wonderful flavour of the octopus. In Greek cooking, we call this dressing/sauce a Latholemono. In its most basic form, it comprises of olive oil and lemon juice and in its more complex, herbs and other flavours are added to the mix. I’ve added some flavours that complement octopus without masking its wonderful flavour.

Octopus Salad “Mosaic” (Χταπόδι-σαλάτα-Μωσαϊκό)

1 octopus (thawed if frozen), at least 1 kg.

Dressing (Latholemono)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small clove of garlic, minced

a squirt of Dijon mustard

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 Tbsp. chopped chives (or scallions)

1 tsp. chopped capers

1 Tbsp. dried Greek oregano

salt and pepper to taste

  1. If working with a frozen octopus, thaw and then rinse and place in a pot large enough to contain it along with the wine cork and cover. Place on your stove-top over medium heat. Be patient and allow the octopus to slowly come to a boil. This step is important – do not be tempted to bring the octopus to boil over high heat (your octopus won’t be as tender). You need not add ANY liquid with the octopus. The octopus will begin releasing its own braising liquid.
  2. As soon as you see a boil and  the liquid has released from the octopus, lower the heat to medium-low, place the cover back on and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the octopus is fork-tender. Take off the heat and have a quick taste of the liquid, add salt to taste (if at all necessary). Allow the octopus to cool completely in the liquid. Remove the octopus and strain. You may reserve the liquid to make an octopus risotto for another occasion.
  3. Separate the eight tentacles and pile lengthwise onto a sheet of plastic wrap wide enough to roll up and obviously long enough to contain the octopus. Tightly wrap the octopus with the plastic wrap and secure with butcher’s twine. You may also use elastic bands to tighten the plastic wrap around the octopus. Place in the fridge overnight.
  4. The next day, remove the octopus from the fridge and snip and remove the butcher’s twine and unwrap the butcher’s twine. Thinly slice some of the octopus and arrange on a plate or platter of your choice. In a jar, add all of the Latholemono ingredients with a pinch of salt and pepper and place lid on on and shake to emulsify. Have a taste and adjust seasoning to taste. Spoon some dressing over your octopus, sprinkle some Greek fleur de sel (afrina) and some dried Greek oregano.
  5. Serve with some crusty bread and Ouzo or Tsipouro on ice or with some water added.

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© 2007-2010 Peter Minakis

© 2010,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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41 Comments for “Octopus Salad “Mosaic” (Χταπόδι-σαλάτα-Μωσαϊκό)”

says:

Yes, I hear some days Greeks eat moussaka too. Just kidding. Eww, octopus. But it looks good. Just kidding, again. I’m on a roll…
Anyway, that is a beautiful dish and it looks like something I’d expect out of a high-end restaurant. Is it a traditional dish? If so, even our forefathers knew how to impress, it appears.

says:

Peter I LOVE octopus salad like this with a light vinaigrette dressing; yours is simply the prettiest I have ever seen! I am stunned at the beauty of the thing rolled and sliced like that! And I love the chewy texture of octopus. Wow, this salad is fabulous! Share?

says:

This sounds absolutely divine and reminds me so very much of the similar tastes from Portugal. I will certainly try this one!

says:

You have me absolutely speechless Peter………this is indeed sexy and the fact that it is so easy makes it even more appealing!!!!!

says:

I’ve only eaten octopus once and that was in a Mexican seafood cocktail. Probably not the best way to get the real taste of it ;)

says:

Peter, Your octopus mosaic looks fantastic. Is that really just one single octopus in the roll? Everytime I cook octopus (in its own juices as you do) it always shrinks so much. The Italians enjoy octopus almost the same way as the Greeks, but I should have guessed as much. My best octopus memory involves being on a small fishing boat off the coast of Sardinia and helping the owners haul in the catch, then going to a deserted island and enjoying the freshest and most perfect octopus salad and grilled fish I’ve ever eaten – all with the turquoise Mediterranean as the backdrop.

Ξανθή

says:

Peter πολύ ωραία η ιδέα με το ψυγείο !!!Θα το δοκιμάσω!!

says:

Πολύ πρωτότυπη ιδέα! Τέλεια εμφάνιση!

says:

Wow! That looks amazing! In Sydney years and years ago I had the most delicious butter-soft octopus. I asked the chef how he achieved it and he said that if you start it in cold water, you will always get tender occi. I haven’t tested the theory!

says:

Τώρα τι θυμήθηκα??
Θυμάσαι το χταποδάκι που ψήσαμε στα καρβουνα την πρώτη μέρα που ήρθες??
Επρεπε να είχα δει την συνταγή σου αυτή, να φτιάχναμε και ένα τέτοιο!!!!!
Φιλιά!!

says:

Wow – what a lovely looking dish Peter – I love the pictures!
I’ve never seen octopus sliced like that before – looks amazing.

says:

Delicious Peter!!!!! Make some space…. I’m comming :D. I have some octupus in my freezer waiting to become a tapa one of these Sundays.

I love it the way you cooked and prepared yours. Have to try it :D

says:

Peter, that is a very impressive technique … the octopus looks so elegant served that way and I am sure it is just as flavorful. I am a firm believer in the addition of a cork when cooking an octopus too; a family friend mentioned the use of a cork years ago and I’ve found it very effective.

Lovely salad and restaurant worthy presentation indeed!

says:

While I’ve never had octopus, that looks much better than I would’ve thought! It actually looks very good! I’ll just have to be brave and give it a go.

says:

it’s lovely to see blogs out there which demystify the myths out there- not all Greeks eat gyros all the time, not all Syrians eat shish taouk all the time and not all Pakistanis, Afghan and Iranians eat kebabs all the time! the octopus with just a little bit of Greek olive oil and lemon is all this dish needs, beautiful, and a beautiful presentation.

says:

You are right, this dish is quite beautiful and the octopus itself is quite stunning when cut into slices. I am going to see the next time I go to the Greek restaurant if octopus will be on the menu. If not, I am definitely going to give a suggestion (good thing we are friends with the owners!) as I think more people should give this a go. What a lovely presentation as well, it is stunning.

says:

This is a very high-brow dish Peter, perfect for a nice dinner party, but also very easy to make. I love it how you get inspired by all the nice things you eat.

Jon

says:

When I’ve seen octopus preparations, they usually call for simmering the octopus in water. Do you know of any preparations where you would poach or confit the octopus?

says:

John, most of the octopus is made up of water. Try this method. The octopus will release it’s own liquid and very often, no additional water is needed. Once the octopus is tender, you can then grill, pickle or make it into a stew.

I’ve ceased to add water for years.

Marin

says:

This looks great! Where is the best place to buy fresh octopus in Toronto (at good price)?

says:

Marin, practically any octopus you will find at a market or fish monger is frozen or previously frozen. Frozen octopus is a by & large a good product. Allow it to thaw overnight before using. Many places in the city sell octopus.

says:

Fantastic recipe that i will definitly make soon at home in PROVENCE , the cork does work , i use it too …but there is so many stories and ways to tenderize the beast !!!
Slow ccooking ? long cooking ? beating the hell out of it on a small harbor pavement ? Cork , Freezing you name it , interresting by the way to find out how the greeks does it , the master the Beast i think….
(So does the Japs )

Garance

says:

I fell in love with octopus at Tom Douglas’ LOLA in Seattle — the delicious meat was braised in red wine, and it was lusciously tender. You already know that I’m always a fan of your Octo-salad… but I’ll repeat it again here for good measure.