I learned this dish from the gifted food writer Richard Olney, when visiting him one winter. We were marooned in his house, up in the hills of Provence, for several days because of a heavy snowfall. We made pasta; there were root vegetables in the cellar, a supply of cheeses and saucisson sec — and Richard had an octopus in the freezer. The freezer is a good place to keep an octopus for a short period, because freezing tenderises the flesh. If you buy a fresh one, freeze it for a couple of days and thaw in the refrigerator before using it. Many fishmongers also stock very good frozen octopus, usually from Spain, and that can be cooked once it has thawed. The daube can be prepared in advance and reheated gently the next day.
To clean the octopus, remove and discard the eyes, beaks and innards; there is no need to skin them. Rinse the octopus and cut them into bite-size pieces. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion gently until golden. Add the garlic and let it just colour Put in the tomatoes, season and increase the heat. Simmer until the juices from the tomatoes have evaporated, and set aside.
Heat the rest of the oil in a heavy pan, put in the octopus and bouquet garni and stir and shake the pan regularly as the liquid given off by the octopus comes to the boil. Heat the cognac in a small pan, ignite it and pour it over the octopus. Shake the pan until the flames die down. Add the white wine, bring to the boil, stirring as it does so, and let it reduce slightly. Add the tomato mixture, bring back to the boil, then simmer, uncovered, for about 1–1½ hours until the octopus is tender. Stir the daube frequently while it is cooking. Just before serving stir in the black olives.
© 2005 Jill Norman. All rights reserved.