Treasures I bring home from my travels are mostly not material. They are memories, pictures, and recipes. I love traveling for many reasons, but seeing my friends who live far away is the most valuable experience. And sometimes, I am lucky to meet in real life people I knew for years virtually, which always feels magical to me. That’s why my last trip to Barcelona was so special. It completely changed my views on pastry world AND I finally have met in person two wonderful women I knew virtually for ages — Maria and Julia. Both of them are passionate about food and are my never-ending inspiration for traditional and modern Spanish dishes and desserts.
Maria shared her Pulpo a la Gallega recipe at school, when she cooked it for us for dinner. Galician style octopus with potatoes is one of the best and well-known Spanish tapas. While preparing the dish, Maria told us, her students, about the intricacies of cooking this type of meat. It is common in Spain now to tenderize fresh octopus by freezing it. One day before cooking, a frozen octopus is placed in the fridge in a large bowl (it releases a lot of water) to thaw for about 24 hours. Slow thawing insures that it stays juicy when cooked. The next step is to “scare” the octopus by dipping it into boiling water a few times. Some sources say an octopus should be “scared” three times, and other ones insist on as many as seven. I remember we all wondered what is the true purpose of this procedure. It is believed there is no need to add any salt or spices to the cooking water – the mature octopus is all you need for the flavor. The same water is then used for cooking potatoes. Potatoes are sliced and served hot, seasoned with paprika and sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil. The octopus is sliced with scissors on top of potatoes. Delicious! I wanted to reproduce it in Austin!
Apparently, Central Market and MT Supermarket almost always have large 2- or 3-pound frozen octopuses in their back room freezers. In Central Market, they are never displayed. You need to ask for a large octopus. Cook them a few time, watch, analyze. Find out how much water you need to make its flavor really concentrated for potatoes. Watch how every time an octopus is quickly dipped into the boiling water, its muscles contract more and more. Its tentacles curl and stiffen slowly, keeping the skin intact. See it for yourself — raising the inner temperature of the octopus slowly protects its skin and makes its flesh tenderer. Note for how long do you need to cook it to archive your favorite texture.