Octopus Stew

I would have called this blog “Squids In”, but sadly I didn’t plan ahead and bought the wrong cephalopod. Any octopus puns would be greatly appreciated for future reference.

Actually, I think the recipe works better with octopus, but squid would be fine – in fact, the recipe is loosely based on the squid stew recipe in Rick Stein’s French Oddysey. Whatever you do though, don’t try it with cuttlefish. It tastes great, but the ink! I ended up cleaning them in the bath and trying to shower away the mess.

My two octopus (octopuses?)

Anyway, for 2 healthy portions you need:

2 or 3 small octopus, about 1 kilo pre-prepared weight in total – not always easy to find, but when I lived in London I could get them at my local Morrisons. Otherwise 4 decent sized squid. And as a last resort, a bag of squid rings from the freezer section of the supermarket (but not calamari in breadcrumbs). Just so you know – Rick Stein suggests 750g for 4 people.

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tbls fennel seeds, gently dry fried until they start to smell strongly then ground, either in a pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder, or even under a rolling pin.

A splash of pastis (Pernod etc, although that bit of old ouzo or raki you have lying around would probably work, too)

1 glass of dry white or rosé wine

The same of stock (fish, or even better shellfish, would be ideal. Typically I use Marigold stock powder)

2 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (possibly harder to find than the octopus) or half a tin of tomatoes drained of juice.

1 large bayleaf

1 strip of orange peel, white pith removed

A pinch of saffron (optional, but a nice touch)

A pinch of chilli flakes (optional, I like a bit of heat)

2 or more cloves of garlic

6 small potatoes, peeled (or as many as you think you’ll need to fill you up)

1 bunch of parsley, chopped (flat or curly as long as there’s a good handful)

1. If you have an understanding fishmonger, get them to clean out your octopus. Otherwise you’ll have to do it yourself. Just behind the eyes, the body sack is attached to the body at a couple of points. Snip through these with a pair of scissors and then pull back the sack, which should come of fairly cleanly leaving you with a head that has tentacles attached at one end and the innards at the other. Cut off the tentacles and throw away the head/stuff. Give the body sack and tentacles a good wash.

Find the section of skin where the sack and head meet…


…put your scissors into the “hole” (see photo above) and snip the attachment…

…peel back the sack leaving head and innards…

Fully dissected octopus

2. Cut the octopus into chunky pieces (it will shrink with cooking) and then drop into boiling water for a few minutes. I don’t know what this does, other than generate lots of scum, but all the experts suggests you do it. Drain. Experts also suggest peeling off the by now pink/purple skin. Ignore them.

Note: If you’re using squid, that will also need to be dismembered. You won’t need to bother with the par-boiling . On the other hand, I would suggest taking off the layer of very fine membrane that covers the body sack and the little wings.

3. In a hot pan, gently fry your onion in enough oil to cover the base. Olive oil for authenticity, but only the cheapest. Fry until soft and straw yellow. If you want a mellow garlic flavour, fry that too, but add part way through the process or it will burn. Otherwise the garlic will be added raw at the end.

4. Add the crushed fennel seeds and fry for another minute or so.

5. Then, either with dexterity or a friend and a match, pour the pastis into the pan and set it alight. It will produce tall purple flames. Panic not! They will die down within 20 seconds.

6. Add the wine, stock, tomatoes, bay leaf, orange peel, saffron and chilli (if using). Season lightly with salt and pepper, remembering that the sauce will reduce.

The octopus has just gone in and the slow simmering starts.

7. Add the octopus, bring to the boil and then turn down to a gentle simmer. You will then need to leave the whole lot to cook slowly for at least an hour, and preferably quite a bit longer if you don’t want rubbery octopus. The smell is fantastic though.

8. Towards the end of the cooking time, bring a pan of (heavily) salted water to the boil and boil your potatoes until not quite fully tender. Drain the potatoes and add them to your octopus pan. Carry on simmering for a few minutes so that the potatoes finish cooking.

9. Stir in the raw garlic if you have kept it back until now. I then let the stew sit for 5 minutes so that it starts to cool – the flavour is better when not piping hot.

10. Serve in shallow bowls and sprinkle with the parsley.

Not quite in focus, and not the tidiest plate ever, and I’d forgotten the parsley. But apart from that, job well done. And it tasted great.

This is good with a glass of very cold rosé, lots of bread to mop up the juices and aioli (garlic mayonnaise) or rouille (a sort of spicy, garlicky mayonnaise) stirred in, but none are essential. You can cheat on the aioli by crushing a couple of garlic cloves and a touch of salt to a paste with the flat of a knife. Put that into a cup with a couple of big spoonfulls of Hellmans and mix together. Then add a couple of slugs of olive oil (for the – ahem -genuine taste of Provence) and mix that in. Voilà. Just don’t tell the taste police.



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