August 13, 2022
Grilled Mediterranean octopus al cartoccio
Living on the shores of the Mediterranean, a stone's throw away from Africa, one has all the luck of being surrounded by some of the best octopus around. Thriving in warm waters, the octopus has been a staple food on Maltese tables for generations. This recipe, cooked on an outdoor gas barbecue has all the ingredients for the perfect summer al fresco experience.
Prep. time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 2 hours
1½-2 kilograms octopus, cleaned
juice and zest of 1 whole lemon
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint, roughly torn
1 sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
50 millilitres olive oil
½ a medium hot chilli, finely chopped.
1. Rinse the octopus well under cold running water and place in a colander to drip off excess water for a few minutes after which pat dry with a paper towel.
2. Prepare the marinade by mixing together in a large bowl the olive oil, half the lemon zest and juice, paprika, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, chopped rosemary, black pepper, oregano and red wine vinegar. Mix well to combine.
3. Lower the octopus in the marinade and, using the hands, thoroughly massage everything together. Cover and set aside for 1 hour.
4. While the octopus is marinading, turn on the gas barbecue on the highest setting possible and allow it to warm up well. Prepare a foil parcel (cartoccio) for the octopus by placing 3 sheets of foil on top of each other. Shape the parcel in a clean bowl paying attention not to tear the foil.
5. Tip the octopus into the foil parcel together with the marinade. Close the parcel tightly and place the cartoccio on the barbecue grill over a heat-resistant high sided oven dish. Close the barbecue top and cook on high heat for 15 minutes after which lower the temperature to medium without opening the barbecue top and cook for 1 hour more.
6. Slowly unwrap the foil parcel and pierce the octopus gently with a fork to check the cooking. If you feel some resistance on the octopus close the parcel again and cook for a further 45 minutes in the closed barbecue, checking the octopus from time to time.
7. When the octopus is tender to the touch, remove it from the barbecue and set aside for about 20 minutes or until it is cool enough to handle. Carefully lift the octopus from the foil parcel and reserve the liquid.
8. Cut the tentacles individually. Turn the barbecue to high and return the octopus to the hot grill to char, cooking on each side for 1 to 2 minutes. Place the charred octopus in a clean bowl and while still hot add the remaining lemon zest and juice, parsley and chilli as well as 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking juices. Toss everything together and transfer to a serving plate. Top with the fresh mint before serving.
Sourcing good quality octopus is key to this recipe.
If possible, ask the fishmonger to clean the octopus. It is imperative to freeze and defrost the octopus before cooking. This will help to tenderise the meat which makes it a product worth buying when in season and storing in a freezer as it will keep well for up to 3 months.
The heat emitted from the barbecue flames will render the octopus tender but in the absence of an outdoor gas barbecue, the octopus can be cooked in an oven and later charred on a hot griddle pan however the octopus may not result as tender.
Cooking times may somewhat vary depending on the size of the octopus. The type and make of the barbecue as well as the outside temperature will also affect cooking times so it is best to keep checking the octopus from time to time.
This recipe does not call for the addition of salt since the octopus is cooked in its own juices which should release the right amount of seasoning. Save the extra cooking juices in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or up to 3 months in a freezer. This will make a good base for future fish stews or fish-based sauces.