I had been in the U.S. for probably a couple of months. I was a freshman in college and on that particular night, my new American friends and I were sitting around the lounge of our college dorm talking about the kinds of things only freshmen can find interesting. At some point, the discussion turned to food and more specifically, food people found disgusting. Liver, intestines, tongue, brains, anything with a head on it, anything with tentacles, all were things tossed around by everyone in their attempt to out-disgust each other.
Everyone but me, that is. Because, as I explained to my increasingly horrified audience, these were all things I grew up eating. As I described a few occasions when my family sat down for a special Sunday lunch and my sister and I each got a whole, roasted baby lamb’s head in our plates, how we used to spread the soft-like-butter brains on our piece of bread — “to get smarter” our dad told us with a wink while he ate the eyeballs, because even we had limits and wouldn’t eat the squishy orbs — and how we used our forks to scrape the melt-in-your-mouth cheeks off the lamb skull, I realized that a couple of people were ready to pass out.
So I kept going and described the traditional Easter dish of kokoretsi: liver, heart, lung, kidneys, and other organs wrapped in intestines and cooked on a skewer over hot coals.
I soon learned to accept the squeamishness of most Americans when it comes to a lot of food I have no problem eating. But there’s one case I still find baffling: those who don’t like to eat “things with tentacles.” That means octopus (or squid). How could you not love octopus? Nothing compares when it comes to texture and taste. If cooked properly, it’s tender with a tiny bit of chewiness, with the taste of the ocean along with a distinct meaty flavor that pairs so well with red wine or vinegar.
This recipe comes from my mom. It’s the way I always ate octopus growing up. Braised in red wine and vinegar for a long time, until it melts in your mouth. The toughest part about this recipe is cutting the octopus, which can be a little slippery, but once that is done, the rest is a piece of cake. Try it, even if you are not a fan of “things with tentacles.” I bet you’ll change your mind.
Red Wine Braised Octopus
Makes 3-4 servings
Note: I usually buy whole octopus frozen and defrost it in the fridge. It’s preferable to buy frozen octopus. In fact, freezing freshly caught octopus and then defrosting it is a good way to tenderize it. Do not add salt to the octopus when cooking it. It is naturally salty. In fact, most of the octopus is salt water that will evaporate in the first part of the recipe.
3 lbs octopus, cleaned and cut into 1.5″-2″ pieces
1 cup red wine
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2-3/4 cup water
1 bay leaf
Place cut octopus in a large pot. Do not add anything else in the pot. Turn the heat on medium and cook octopus until almost all of its water has evaporated (or as my mom always says “until it drinks its water”). The octopus pieces will turn deep pink and shrink considerably.
When only a little bit of liquid remains in the pot, add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and then simmer with a lid loosely covering the pot until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened (1.5-2 hours). Taste and season with black pepper if necessary.
Serve with rice or pasta.