Pulpitos con Ajo y Vino Blanco
Baby Octopuses with Garlic and White Wine
On Saturday morning as I skimmed bleary-eyed through my phone, the words “popets amb cansalada” popped out at me from my twitter feed. This is a signifier of a couple of things: 1) my Catalan needs work (cansalada has nothing to do with salad…in fact it means bacon) and 2) I was experiencing one of those fantastic moments when one has a sense of alignment. I’m reading Colman Andrews’ seminal book on Catalan cooking, which—published way back in 1988—was an early harbinger of the fanatic appreciation of Spanish cuisine that was going to play out over the next two decades. (Symmetrically, Andrews is also the biographer of the reigning king of Spanish cooking, Catalan chef Ferran Adría.)
I experienced a little jolt of excitement seeing Andrews’ tweets in Catalan and realizing he and I were in the same city. I swallowed the urge to go and stalk him and decided to make popets (octopus in Catalan) for supper instead. It bears noting, however, that I don’t LOVE to eat octopus. If it’s prepared phenomenally then I enjoy it, but I’ll skip it as sushi and certainly it is out of my comfort zone to prepare it at home. Baby octopus—pulpitos in Castillian—are another story. I have yet to find them prepared in a manner I don’t like. Any chef will tell you that in order for it to be tender, you must either cook octopus for a looooong time or cook it quick. With these tiny treasures, it seems not to matter as they are always tender. I pushed off to the Boqueria to buy my eight-legged babies.
It’s not advisable to play with one’s food (let alone talk to it), but it was hard to resist with these precious little pulpitos. They were so exquisitely beautiful with their layers of translucent iridescent derma freckled between their wide set eyes. Though babies they wore ancient expressions. I was besotted. Alas, once hauled from the Mediterranean, the greatest show of respect I could bestow upon them was to cook them well and savor each and every one.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
1 lb. baby octopus
1/2 cup white wine
bay leaf and herbs (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
juice from half a lemon, reserving some zest
handful of flat-leaf parsely
olive oil, salt and pepper
Cleaning the Octopus: Lay the pulpito on a cutting board face down and carefully separate the mantle from the body (on the back there are layers of tissue near where the hooded top meets the trunk of the body). Using a small sharp knife, carefully slice into the tissue without severing the octopus in half. Grasp and firmly pull out the viscera—including the organs, ink sac, gills and glands—from the “hood.” Remove the eyes. In these little ones there appeared to be no beak to remove. Rinse thoroughly under cold water removing any ink that may have leaked.
Marinade: Pour ¼ cup white wine over the cleaned octopi; add a bay leaf, some lemon zest and ¼ teaspoon sea salt. I had some rosemary and added this too. Cover and marinate for up the 3 hours in the refrigerator.
Cooking: In a large cast iron pan heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium to high flame. When the oil shimmers place the octopi on the pan with their tentacles splayed. Once you put them down, don’t move them for about three minutes. The octopi will give off some liquid; If there seems to be too much, pour the liquid out and reserve, then start again with fresh olive oil. After three minutes, turn over the octopi and cook them on their sides, at this point it’s okay to toss them around in the pan so that they cook evenly. When the octopi have turned a rather shocking bright reddish purple they are done. Using a slotted spoon, move them into a serving dish and cover to keep them warm.
Add chopped garlic to the pan and sauté for about 20 seconds. Deglaze with the juice of half a lemon and ¼ cup of remaining white wine. Let this mixture simmer for a couple of minutes, then add chopped parsley for the last 30 seconds. Pour the sauce over the octopi. Serve and eat immediately.
Note: I served my pulpitos with artichokes, alioli and a salad.
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