They are called ‘Qarnit’ in Maltese (English-speakers note: this is pronounced “are-neat”), and they are a delicacy in local cuisine. Mainly they are prepared in two ways. Boiled, then chopped and mixed with garlic, parsley and some oil and lemon. Or, the more appreciated way, to make octopus stew served with spaghetti. Just writing this, my mouth waters.
Some people are put off by the texture of octopus. It’s chewy they say! It is not, I say! It all boils down to the way it is prepared and cooked. Some restaurants keep corks from wine bottles and put them in the boiling water when cooking octopus. I cannot really say it works, but some swear by it. They believe it makes the octopus tender. I just cook it the way my family always cooks it. In boiling water, cook it for 20 minutes, switch off, then leave it in the water (in the covered pot) for another 20, before going to the next steps, which very much depend on the recipe.
Octopuses are cephalopod molluscs that have no skeleton. They have 4 pairs of tentacles, and thus the name octopus. Octo in Latin means 8. Strong enough to open a mussel shell and swift enough to hit on their prey, octopi are super intelligent. They can hide and camouflage themselves, and the way they swim, the fleeting movements as they run off when feeling threatened and the way they squirt the ink and disappear in a black cloud, is mesmerizing. I have spent hours diving and snorkelling at Qbajjar watching these beautiful creatures, with only a sunburnt back as my witness. Unfortunately for them, the downside is that they taste beautifully when cooked.
If you are catching your own, please leave the little ones in peace! Just remember that when using a mask things might look a bit bigger and you end up catching a baby octopus. Sad. I have bribed my younger brothers with monetary rewards to release ‘small’ specimens back to sea. My father would not have spared them. But peeping up from the bucket, little Octi ‘needed’ to go back and I made sure it did.
So, let’s just say we got hold of a good sized octopus. At this point I can’t just start taking pots and pans out and call friends for dinner! A simple step, that cannot be skipped (unless you fancy acting-out the story of the beautiful Sicilian woman with long dark wet hair, beating an octopus on a rock, whilst half immersed in sea water) is to freeze the beast. Yes, freezing is the best way to tenderize this mollusc. It does not alter the taste at all. Keeping it frozen for about 10 days, will do the trick. Defrost it and you are ready to go.
Octopuses are not slimy creatures. Don’t be put off . They are very easy to cook if you follow simple instructions.
Freeze. Defrost. Boil. Chop. Cook in a stew. Voila!
The dark, super rich Valhrona cocoa powder used for this recipes gives a deep flavour to this recipe. It does not taste of chocolate! it is just a delicious hearty octopus stew a bit 'different' than the norm. If you have enough time, prepare the stew the day before. The flavours will settle and the stew will taste even better the day after.
If you want to make the traditional Maltese 'octopus salad', just add chopped garlic, loads of parsley, salt, pepper, some lemon and olive oil after you boil and rest the octopus. Just chop the octopus up and mix it well with the rest of the ingredients, after it has cooled.
- Octopus - 1kg
- Marjoram - 2 springs
- Thyme - 2 spring
- Whole Black Peppercorns - 1 tbsp
- Bay Leaves - 2
- Onion - 1 large
- Fresh Garlic Cloves - 8
- Saffron Threads - pinch
- Octopus Stock - 2 glasses
- Orange Zest - strip
- Valhrona Cocoa Powder - 1 tbsp
- Dark Chocolate (70%) - 50g
- Tomato Passata - 350g
- Tomato Paste - 2 tbsp
- Blk Pepper
- Sea Salt
- Ground Almonds - 4 tbsp
- Sangre de Toro (red wine) - 2 glass
- Chilli Flakes
Bring a large pot of water to the boil.Gently drop in the clean octopus, the thyme, marjoram,bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring back to the boil. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Leave covered, turn off and stand (still covered) for another 20 minutes. Keep 2 glasses of the cooking liquid aside. Remove the octopus from the water and being careful, chop in inch long pieces. Set aside.
Fry the chopped onions and garlic in olive oil. Add the saffron, the cocoa powder, some marjoram, a bay leaf, the octopus pieces and a glass of red wine. Simmer for a few minutes, then add the tomato passata and paste, a cup of stock, some more wine and the strip of orange zest. Cover and simmer gently for about an hour. If the sauce dries a little, add some more of the reserved octopus stock. Remove orange zest and bay leaf, add the dark chocolate and stir until it has dissolved. Add the ground almonds and chilli flakes (to taste), season, stir and cook for another 10 minutes.
Serve with boiled potatoes.