Octopus Stifado

Octopus with Onions & Red Wine


This is a rich octopus and baby onion stew with red wine and spices. The same dish is also often made using rabbit or beef instead of the octopus (the cooking technique will vary slightly). It is important to let this dish sit for at least half an hour before serving as the onions will continue to cook in the hot casserole.


  • 1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz) whole octopus (preferably with thick tentacles)
  • 140 ml (5 fl oz) olive oil
  • 1 kg (2 lb 4 oz) small stewing onions, peeled and left whole
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons good-quality red wine vinegar
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 450 g (1 lb) tin peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 375 ml ( cups) red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 small dried red chilli, chopped
  • a pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • a few allspice (pimento) berries


Cut the head off the octopus just below the eyes. Remove the beak by pushing it out through the centre of the tentacles. Cut the eyes from the head by slicing off a small round. Remove the intestines by pushing them out of the head. Rinse the head and tentacles thoroughly and cut up into chunks of about 3 cm (about an inch). Put the octopus pieces in a large pan, cover and cook over high heat for about 3 minutes. The octopus will create some liquid and brighten up a lot in colour. Stir now and then and cook, covered, for another 10 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated.

Meanwhile, heat 100 ml ( fl oz) of the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and sauté gently until softened, stirring now and then with a wooden spoon but taking care not to break them up. When they are lightly golden, add the sugar and vinegar and continue cooking until the sauce at the bottom of the pan thickens. The onions should be quite soft now.

Add the remaining olive oil and the garlic to the octopus and sauté for a few seconds more. Add the tomato and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, bay leaves, chilli, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. Season with salt and pepper. Add 750 ml (3 cups) water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.

Add the onions, mix through gently, cover the pan and cook for another 30 minutes. Hold the pan and lid with a cloth in both hands and hula hoop the pan around occasionally so that it doesn’t stick and the onions remain whole. The octopus and onions should be barely covered with a slightly thickened sauce, but add a little more hot water if it seems necessary. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to cool for about 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm, not piping hot, with your favourite bread and a salad.