Chilli-Marinated Octopus

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Food of the Sun: A Fresh Look at Mediterranean Cooking

Food of the Sun

By Alastair Little and Richard Whittington

Published 1995

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Octopus is sold throughout the Mediterranean, but few of our fishmongers buy it from the market. It can be rubbery and impossibly tough, but this is entirely to do with how it is cooked. You must either cook it for ages or eat it almost raw. Cook moderately and you may as well put a steel-belted radial on the plate.

Here only the tentacles are served - and big ones, with a diameter of about 2.5 cm/1 in, are ideal. If you are lucky enough to have an Oriental fishmonger to hand, then he will almost certainly have regular supplies of octopus. Japanese fishmongers actually offer ready-blanched tentacles, which need no preliminary cleaning or blanching. If you do persuade your local fishmonger to get octopus for you, you may have to take the whole thing; in which case, get him to behead and gut it - an unpleasant chore.


  • 900 g/2 lb octopus tentacles
  • 1 kaffir lime leaf (desirable but optional)
  • 1 small hot red chilli
  • 2 lemons salt
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, to dress
  • few drops of Kikkoman soy sauce, to dress
  • handful of chives, to garnish



At least 1ΒΌ hours ahead of serving: put to heat a large pan of heavily salted water (think saline, think sea water).

Clean the tentacles by putting them in a large bowl, coating them liberally with coarse salt and rubbing it in for 5 minutes. It is best to wear rubber gloves for this task. Rinse thoroughly.

When the water is boiling rapidly, holding with tongs, dip a tentacle into it for 20 seconds. Remove, then dunk it back in again for a further 20 seconds. Repeat the process a third time and put it into a pottery or glass dish. The tentacle will curl up during this blanching process. Blanch the other tentacles in the same way and add them to the dish. This three-dip technique is called β€˜scaring’ the octopus and is said to tenderize it more than if you just stuck it in the boiling liquid and left it there for the whole minute.

If using, shred the lime leaf finely. Deseed and finely chop the chilli. Stir these in with the octopus. Juice the lemons and pour this over. Sprinkle with a little salt and leave to marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature, turning frequently. It will keep, cling wrapped and refrigerated, for up to a week - and indeed benefits from such lengthy marinating.


Cut the tentacles at an angle into scalloped 1 cm/Β½ in slices, leaving the curled tips intact. Arrange on a serving dish, pour over the marinade and dress with the extra-virgin olive oil.

Pretend a Japanese visitor to the Mediterranean brought some Kikkoman soy sauce along and, out of deference to him, add a few drops to complete the dressing. Finish the presentation with some snipped chives.

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