As an ingredient, Greeks “own octopus”, as Greek-food Guru Diane Kochilas said earlier this week. No one owns any particular ingredient but we proudly cook it (with skill) and there are countless octopus dishes in Greek cuisine from salads to stews, grilled to giouvetsi. You’ll find octopus in practically every corner of regional Greek cooking and only a few Greeks (heretics I call them) that actually hate it.
For all the bashing Greek restaurants endure in the west, give them credit for including octopus on their menu. The most common dishes are grilled or as a pickled salad but there are so many other dishes where octopus makes an appearance and shines. The key to good octopus has as much to do with texture as it does flavour. It HAS to be tender and that’s usually done by either whacking it on rocks by the sea or braising it until tender.
Once the octopus is tender, you have many paths to take your once tough, gnarly-looking octopus into a culinary delight gifted by the Mediterranean. Today’s octopus dish arrives on your plate as a stew, with potatoes and briny Nafplion green olives and Kalamata black olives. Funny enough, potatoes (a relatively new ingredient to the Greek pantry) took-off in popularity after Ioannis Kapodistrias left sacks of potatoes un-guarded overnight in Nafplion and Greeks walking away with what they perceived as valuable.
This recipe is a two-parter: first I braise the octopus in its own liquid and for quicker cooking time I used baby octopus. After the octopus is tender it gets added into a pot with onions, garlic, wine and vinegar, lemon peel and potatoes. Finishing touches are a swirl of mustard, squeeze of lemon juice, couple of turns of Greek olive oil, dried Greek oregano, celery leaves and scallion greens to lift the dish.
Octopus With Olives & Potatoes (Χταποδι με Ελιες και Πατατες)
1 kg. of baby octopus (or whole)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, diced
2-3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. of whole peppercorns
peel of 1/2 lemon, cut into strips
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley stems
4-5 potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup of green olives
1/2 cup Kalamata olives
1/4 cup white wine
2 Tbsp. wine vinegar
approx. 1 cup water
1 Tbsp. Dijon style mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 chopped celery leaves
2 tsp. dried Greek oregano
2-2 scallions sliced
- Rinse your octopus and place in a pot over medium heat and cover. After about 5-6 minutes check to see if it’s liquid has been released. If there is about an inch of water reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and allow the octopus to braise in its own liquid for about 45 to 70 minutes (depending on size). The octopus should be just fork-tender.
- In large pot add the olive oil, onions, garlic, bay, carrots, parsley, celery, peppercorns and sweat for 6-7 minutes. Now add the octopus, lemon peel, wine and wine vinegar and enough water to just cover the octopus and potatoes. Season with a pinch of salt and some fresh ground pepper and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes then add the olives (more water if necessary) and mustard and cook for another 5 minutes or until potatoes are cooked.
- Add the celery leaves, dried Greek oregano and a squeeze of lemon juice. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and top with scallion greens. Serve with a Gaia Thalassitis white.
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