Mediterranean Grilled Octopus

Kömürde Ahtapot

Octopus is one of the most common ingredients on any Aegean seaside meze table. At 3 pm in the coastal towns you’ll see kitchen workers emerge from the restaurants and throw handfuls of octopus against the rocks beside the sea, to tenderise them ahead of the 6 pm rush.

My mum used to automate the process by putting them in an old top-loading washing machine with some rocks and churning them for an hour (without washing powder!). Luckily, in fish markets now you can buy them already tenderised.

I love cooking octopus whole with its tentacles on. My good friend İvgen, from Evgenia meyhane in Bodrum, gave me a version of this recipe which has the octopus boiling with mulberry-tree branches before it’s char-grilled. She says it makes the octopus melt in your mouth. For convenience, ecology and flavour, I’ve substituted oregano. No mulberry trees were harmed in the making of this dish. I can’t say the same for the octopus.

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Ingredients

  • 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) octopus, cleaned
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) red wine
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 185 ml (6 fl oz/¾ cup) olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 4 spring onions (scallion(s))
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 flat-leaf (Italian) parsley stalks, leaves only, finely chopped
  • 1 small bunch of fresh cranberries (optional)

Method

Put the octopus in a bowl with the red wine and oregano, and leave to marinate for 2 hours.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, light it 1 hour before you’re ready to cook. Burn the charcoal for at least 45 minutes and when the flames have died down, and the coals are glowing with a covering of white ash, the barbecue is ready. (If you’re using a gas barbecue, turn it on to medium–high about 5 minutes before you’re ready to cook.) If you are using the oven, preheat to 200°C (400°F/Gas 6).

Remove the octopus from the marinade, place it on a board and stretch it out into a tube shape. Tightly wrap the octopus tube in three layers of foil. Discard the marinade.

Place the foil-wrapped octopus on the grill and cook for 2 hours, turning every 30 minutes (or cook in the oven for hours).

Crush the garlic and mix together in a bowl with 125 ml (4 fl oz/½ cup) of the olive oil and the soy.

Remove the octopus from the heat, unwrap from the foil and brush with the oil and soy mixture. Brush the spring onions with the same mixture. If you’re using a charcoal barbecue, put the octopus and spring onions over the coals for 2 minutes on each side. Or sear the octopus and spring onions in a frying pan over high heat for 2 minutes each side until the octopus skin darkens.

Cut the octopus and divide it among four plates. Or place the octopus, whole, on a serving plate for people to help themselves as part of a meze platter. Decorate with the spring onions and drizzle with the lemon juice and the remaining oil. Top with parsley and serve. If it’s the season for fresh cranberries, you can decorate the plate with a few of them.