Pickled octopus is one of the most common Greek mezze, served with ouzo in taverns all over the country. In the souks of Tunisia dried octopuses are sold, along with small dried fish, like smelts and tiny shrimps. All these dried sea creatures are soaked in water and added to the fish couscous and other dishes.
To serve the pickled octopus, drain 1-2 tentacles, slice them and dress with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkling with fresh or dried savory or oregano. You can also add it to potato salad, as we did during the Clean Monday Lunch at the Oxford Symposium, a few years back.
Makes 1 1/2 quarts, to serve 12 or more as an appetizer
1 octopus (about 2 pounds), cleaned
4 bay leaves
3-3 1/2 cups good-quality red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
3-4 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
3-4 dried pepperoncini or other small chilies, slashed in half with scissors from the tip to the cup, but not separated
2 tablespoon coriander seeds
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme or savory
Olive oil, to top the jar
Bring to boil 2 quarts water with 1 bay leaf in a large pot. With tongs or wearing a silicon glove hold the octopus head and submerge briefly (3-5 seconds) the octopus in the water 3 times. The technique is supposed to keep the tentacles straight, and it usually works. Finally let the octopus cook in the water for 15 minutes or until firm and easily pierced with a fork. It shouldn’t be too soft, because it will get mushy in the vinegar brine.
In a non-reactive saucepan warm the vinegar with the honey, garlic, chilies and coriander seeds.
Remove from the heat as soon as it starts to boil.
Drain the octopus and separate the tentacles with a sharp knife.
Place the cut-up octopus in a 1 1/2 – quart jar with the remaining bay leaves, and the sprigs of thyme or savory. Pour over the warm vinegar with the chilies, garlic etc. to cover the octopus completely. Add about 1 inch olive oil on top.
Cover the jar and keep at room temperature, shaking every now and then. It will be ready to serve after 1 week.
Pickled Octopus keeps for 1-2 months in the refrigerator.
Bring to room temperature the pieces you want to serve.