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Blue by Eric Ripert

Dear Mr. Ripert – How in the world do you do it? Your three-star Michelin restaurant in New York City – Le Bernardin – captivated me years ago from the first sip of champagne. But I didn’t expect to be equally enchanted thousands of miles away in the Cayman Islands on my visit to Blue, your restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

 However, I had a suspicion that something great was afoot when we stopped for drinks at the bar one night. The piña loca tipped me off. I mean, I knew we were in for a treat just from watching your bartender shake the drinks at the bar and deliver them in those beautiful glasses. It didn’t hurt that the charred pineapple juice and agave were mixed with cachaça.  (In case you’re taking notes, Mr. Ripert, a caipirinha – also made with that Brazilian spirit – is my favorite cocktail, although a Hendricks gin and tonic is a close second. But I digress, sorry). Anyway, we may have been tipped off by the drinks, but when we tasted the complimentary salmon rillette, it just heightened our eagerness to come back the following night for a full meal. I loved how your chef combines smoked salmon with poached fresh salmon and shallots in white wine and other ingredients. Those little toasts were the perfect transport for this delicious snack and a great way to get our evening started. I hope you don’t mind my sharing that recipe at the end of this letter.

So there we were, the next night at 6:30. Unfashionably early, I agree, but hey, we couldn’t wait much longer to savor the full menu. I loved the understated, yet elegant decor, and the wall art, designed by British artist Grahame Menage to represent the outlines of the Cayman Islands and other Caribbean nations. Oh, and please thank your lovely manager Christina who seated us at a quiet table with ample light — all the better for taking photos. Is she just naturally engaging and helpful, or do you instruct all your staff to be so kind? Because without being intrusive, everyone couldn’t have been nicer.

I was so eager to get started, I got fidgety waiting for the first course, although my husband Ron told me to cool my jets and be patient. He was so right. Patience was rewarded not long afterwards, when the chef,  Thomas Seifried, sent out this amuse bouche, including a taste of that now-familiar salmon rillette — it’s that dab in the middle cushioned by small round crackers, but you already knew that. Well, thanks for reminding me how much I loved it the night before. The little sample of raw snapper with a petite potato chip on top and surrounded by avocado cream and citrus vinaigrette was a lovely tease for the palate too, but can I just wax rhapsodic about that soup in the little cup on the left? Just know that I would happily drown in that luscious concoction – made with sunchokes, brown butter and croutons. We were both wishing for a lifetime supply of that soup (Sunchokes aren’t really a staple in our pantry, but if you sent me that recipe, I would search them out).

But we knew there was plenty more to come, beginning with the “almost raw” section of the menu. My husband chose the conch dish, tender slivers of the locally caught seafood, sprinkled with bits of puffed quinoa, basil aioli and espelette pepper.  The ponzu sauce added just the right acidity, with its flavors of rice vinegar, soy sauce and yuzu (I admit I had to look up ponzu sauce, but I first learned about yuzu – an Asian citrus  – at Le Bernardin years ago).

I opted for the snapper trio – served with slices of king crab and dollops of wasabi and avocado cream, and bathed in a seafood emulsion. I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to do what we Italians call “la scarpetta,” swooshing my bread through the sauce to savor every last drop. At least I didn’t lick the plate — well, not yet at least.

Speaking of bread, I didn’t want to make a pig of myself and choose all four offerings, so I stuck to the sourdough.  I’m coming back for the others on my next visit though.

Next came the “barely touched” portion of the menu, and I’m sure you don’t know this, but when it comes to octopus on a menu, I’m a real sucker  – no pun intended (well, maybe yes it was). I have to say that I’ve eaten lots of grilled octopus in my life, but never served with a creamy chorizo emulsion. Who thinks up these unusual flavor combinations? The smoky flavor of the sauce was the perfect partner for the “meaty” chunks of octopus.  If only I had the recipe, I might rethink my Christmas eve octopus salad in favor of this.

Let me also take this opportunity, Mr. Ripert, to give a shout-out to ViJay, our server for the night, who also recommended excellent wines to pair with each course. I am usually cautious in choosing red wines to drink with fish, but ViJay suggested the perfect accompaniment each time, whether red or white. Just one example of the night’s sampling included a smooth, vibrant Portuguese red wine from the Douro Valley that cut through the richness of the octopus and the sauce.

And like me with octopus, when my husband sees pasta on a menu, he’s gonna go for it. I think he went a little weak in the knees when this appeared at the table – a tangle of fettuccine enrobed in a truffle sauce containing king crab and lobster, topped with a healthy portion of sliced truffles. Can you say ecstasy? He would have, if he could have stopped long enough to speak. Me? I was speechless too, once he let me have a taste.

Just when you think you’ve had enough truffles, (Forget I said that. You can never have enough truffles, can you?) your chef sends this voluptuous dish compliments of the kitchen – Danish langoustine atop Iberico ham, crème fraîche, a balsamic-mushroom vinaigrette and more shaved truffles. If I’d known this was coming, I might not have ordered the lobster from the next portion of the menu – the “lightly cooked” section.

Just kidding. I wouldn’t have wanted to forgo this delectable dish of butter poached lobster served with edamame beans in a fragrant lobster-ginger consomme. And how clever to include that wonton stuffed with a mousse of halibut, lobster claw and shrimp.  It was a real treat for all the senses. By the way, I forgot to mention that I love the Limoges Bernardaud porcelain plates you use in your restaurants. The white on white recessed dots are subtle yet distinctive, without stealing the show from the food.

This dish my husband chose for the main course, Mr. Ripert, might just be the “sleeper” on the menu. It doesn’t have the sexy visual appeal of some the other dishes (don’t be offended – it is mostly brown after all, except for the bits of friseé) but wow, what a fabulous flavor – not just from the delicate fish, but from that nutty brown butter sauce infused with tamarind.  Look away while I do that scarpetta thing again.

Big decisions were ahead for dessert. Even though only four offerings are listed, aside from ice cream and sorbet, it was difficult to choose. My husband selected the “Mont Blanc”  – a heavenly whipped chestnut cream spiral with rum-candied chestnuts, studded with gold leaf, and served with a quenelle of ice cream. OK, I’ll stop drooling now.

I was having a tough time. Should I order the coconut dessert, served with passion fruit and pineapple? Or should I order the babà, the Neapolitan treat I love? I decided on the coconut, and it arrived looking like a modern sculpture. Don’t get me wrong, I ate almost the whole thing, but it was encased in white chocolate, and I should have mentioned, I’m a dark chocolate lover. When Christina stopped by to ask about our desserts, she admitted that the babà was her favorite. Darn, I said. I knew I should have ordered that!Well, that’s all she needed to hear. She hurried off to the kitchen, and returned with a gift for me — my own babà, studded with caramelized pears, Cayman honey and almond crumbs, all served with a silky sauce and yogurt ice cream. Funny how I felt stuffed after all the courses and the first dessert, but the babà went down like manna from heaven. Quick, is anybody watching while I lick the plate?

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, out comes this tray of scrumptious mignardises – petite financiers, geleés, macarons and chocolates.

Thanks for such a great dinner. Sorry it took us so long to get here (considering you opened the restaurant in 2005). What a nice touch giving us that box of macarons to take home with us too.

Oh Eric, (can I call you that now that I’ve spent three hours in your restaurant?) like I said earlier, I really never expected such a Lucullan feast down here in the Cayman Islands, but Blue is every bit as wonderful as Le Bernardin, and you’ve even got that spectacular seven-mile beach outside your door. No wonder it received the five diamond award from AAA.

And as much as we love the Big Apple, the Cayman islands has won our hearts too, especially since our extraordinary meal at Blue. Hope to see you next year. And next time, I promise to keep my fingers off the plate.

Sincerely yours, Linda and Ron

Salmon Rillette
 
Author:
Serves: serves 6
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 pound fresh salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 ounces smoked salmon, diced
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Instructions
  1. In a shallow pan, bring the white wine and shallots to a boil.
  2. When the shallots are cooked, add the salmon and gently poach the salmon until it is just barely opaque.
  3. Remove the salmon from the wine and immediately drain on a towel-lined sheet pan.
  4. Strain the wine, reserving the shallots.
  5. Place the salmon and shallots in the refrigerator to cool.
  6. Combine the poached salmon and shallots in a mixing bowl with the smoked salmon, chives and some of the mayonnaise and lemon juice—use the mayonnaise and lemon juice sparingly to begin, and adjust to taste.
  7. Mix the rillette—do not over-mix or mix too hard.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve cold with toasted baguette slices.

Octopus And Potato Salad

Thank you dear readers, for not clicking off this post when you saw the word “octopus.” Now I know many of you have eaten octopus, but wouldn’t think of cooking it any sooner than you’d think of jumping into the Atlantic Ocean in January.

But wait! It’s easier to cook than you think and tastes infinitely better than anything you could buy already prepared. With Christmas eve coming up, I thought I’d revisit this recipe that I posted when I first started blogging in 2008. The hardest part is getting over the squeamish feeling you might have about handling this unwieldy cephalopod.

But if you think this is unwieldy, try hoisting a live, squiggly octopus into a boat, as I once did off the coast of Sardinia – an activity I hope to duplicate again next summer.

I can buy octopus fresh at my fish store in the Christmas season, but it also comes frozen at the grocery store. The frozen ones (from Mediterranean countries) are quite good, and the freezing process actually helps to tenderize them. Buy the biggest one you can because it shrinks a lot, and the bigger the octopus, the larger and more “meaty” your slices will be. This one weighed about three pounds.

Maybe you’re still reading this, but I bet you’re still not on board with me, are you? I know, it is slippery and ungainly. But hey, you can check it off your bucket list! What? “Cooking an octopus”  isn’t on your bucket list? Come on, where are your priorities?

Alright then, for those of you intrepid folks still with me, you probably know there are many thoughts on the best way to cook an octopus to make it tender, some of them involve thrashing the octopus on rocks, and some involve cooking with a cork or dipping it into boiling water three times before immersing it completely.

I don’t do any of those and I am here to tell you that I’ve been cooking octopus for years and my technique ALWAYS produces a tender result. You start out by placing the whole octopus into a sturdy pot where you’ve placed a bit of olive oil on the bottom. It cooks, in its own juices, over low heat on the range, covered, for about 20 minutes. After that time, it will have shrunk a lot and turned a purple-y color. Transfer it to a glass or pyrex or ceramic baking dish, cover and bake in a 300 degree oven for one hour.

It will shrink a little bit more after baking for an hour. Let it cool in its own juices.

Now this next part is messy, I’m the first to admit. But big whoop – you have a sink with running water, right? So you just wash your hands afterwards.

OK, let’s get down to business. After the octopus has cooled enough to handle, cut off the head from the rest of the body. See that grey-ish opaque thing-y at the juncture where the legs meet the head? That little “beak”  feels like hard plastic, so remove it with a paring knife. Throw it out, along with the head (although some people do eat the head).

Now take a sharp knife and separate the legs (tentacles) from each other.

Many people (and restaurants) serve the octopus with the suckers still attached, but in larger octopi especially, I think the suckers and surrounding skin taste gelatinous, and I prefer to remove them. Besides, removing the suckers leaves you with white flesh, which is more appealing to me visually in this salad. But if you like the suckers, by all means, leave them on.

One of the best octopus dishes I’ve ever eaten – at Porta in Asbury Park, N.J., is served with its suckers on. It’s dripping in butter, which may have something to do with why it’s so good – along with the capers and fennel and parley salad it’s served with.

If you want to remove the suckers however, a quick way is to hold each tentacle under cold running water, and use your fingers to “scrape” along the length of the leg. Pat dry.

Slice the octopus and place in a bowl.

Add the potatoes and the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Caveat emptor, octopus is not inexpensive. Octopus for a salad of this size (serving four as a salad, or eight as an appetizer) will cost from $35 to $50 at the fish store. But for a once a year special event, like Christmas eve, it’s worth it. Serve it as an appetizer with crusty slices of bread, or as a side salad.

Now have I convinced you to cook octopus? Spero di si. Buon Natale tutti.

Octopus And Potato Salad
 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 large octopus - 3 to 4 pounds
  • olive oil to coat the bottom of a pan
  • 6-8 small fingerling potatoes (or other waxy potatoes - enough to amount to about 1 cup or however many potatoes you want)
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of one lemon
  • ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup finely minced red onion
  • ¼ cup finely minced celery
  • a touch of red pepper flakes, optional
  • 2 T. minced parsley
  • salt, pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Place olive oil on the bottom of a sturdy pan and put over low heat, lowering the octopus into the pan. Cover with a lid and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, cook the potatoes in water until just tender, then remove from water and let cool.
  3. Remove from heat and put the octopus in a glass or ceramic dish. Cover and cook in a 300 degree oven for one hour.
  4. Remove from oven and let it cool.
  5. Cut the head from the octopus and remove the beak.
  6. Remove the suckers and outer purply skin by rinsing under cold water.
  7. Slice the octopus and the potatoes, then mix with all the other ingredients. Adjust seasonings to taste.
 

N7’s Seared Scallops With Chive Oil

N7’s Seared Scallops with Chive Oil

A trip to New Orleans is always difficult for a food lover. Difficult in a good way, because there are so many talented chefs in the Big Easy, offering wonderful options ranging from Creole dishes to traditional Southern favorites to nouvelle fusion.
N7, labeled the country’s tenth best restaurant in 2016 by Bon Appétit magazine, fits the last description.
The food speaks with a definite French accent, and the restaurant’s name, N7, is a reference to the mythic road that ran from Paris to the border of Italy (now upgraded or replaced by the A77 autoroute).
Finding your way along a French road that was the equivalent of America’s Route 66 might be slightly easier than finding the restaurant N7, tucked away on Montegut Street, off of St. Claude Avenue in the city’s funky, hip Bywater neighborhood.
You might easily pass the entrance if you’re not looking for the red stenciled sign on a wooden doorway leading to N7’s courtyard.
Once inside, you can’t miss the red Citroen taking a prime spot along the gravel driveway.
 Much of the seating is outdoors, in a courtyard outfitted with casual style tables and chairs, surrounded by potted plants and vines.
But there is some seating indoors in a structure that at one time housed a tire shop, and long before that, a stable. Sitting at the bar now though, you might be convinced that you were in a bistro in Paris’ Marais neighborhood.
 The food whispers with other culinary accents too, like the oysters from Washington State, served with a sauce redolent of soy sauce — not unusual since the restaurant is owned by Japanese born Yuki Yamaguchi, and her husband, filmmaker Aaron Walker.
 Nearly half the menu is “can to table” seafood – which could be off putting to many. But in some European countries, particularly Spain, canned fish is a delicacy sought after as eagerly as fresh seafood.
We dug in with gusto to the sardines, swishing our bread through the can to glob on to every last bit of the sundried tomato sauce.
And after a squirt of lemon, the octopus in olive oil was gone in a flash too, accompanied by herb butter and a piquant red pepper paste.
The menu, although limited, does contain a few cooked items, such as the seared scallops with chive oil, pictured in the first photo. It was our favorite dish of the night (recipe below).
Another winner was the pork katsu with beet purée. The pork is dredged in flour, egg and finally panko (Japanese bread crumbs), then fried in hot oil and sliced. It rests on a luscious purée made with beets, apples, chicken broth and a little cream and yogurt.
 We also tried the duck breast a l’orange, again prepared with a hint of soy sauce in addition to the more traditional ingredients such as orange zest and orange juice.
 Desserts are very limited but seemed just right. Choose either French macaron cookies (not pictured) or the cheese plate, which contained three cheeses – a sweet gorgonzola, a sheep’s milk cheese and a creamy cow’s milk cheese. A few dried figs, cherries and nuts rounded out the platter.
 As night descended and the tables filled, lights twinkled around the perimeter of the courtyard.
Is it really the most romantic French restaurant in the world, as Bon Appétit claims?
I’m not so sure I buy that moniker, but it sure won over our hearts and I know we’ll be visiting N7 again the next time we’re in New Orleans.
 And if you’d like to take a real trip to Europe and a dreamy part of Italy, join me for a memoir writing retreat at Villa Monastero, in Varenna overlooking Lake Como. Only a couple of spots remain. You don’t have to be a professional writer to participate. Life is short, so don’t delay your dream. For more information, go to www.italyinotherwords.com or email me.
Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day.

You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.

 

Seared Scallops with Chive Oil
From N7 Restaurant, New Orleans via Bon Appetit magazine

Ingredients

4 Servings

Chive Oil

  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt
  • ½ cup olive oil

Potatoes

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
  • ½ cup heavy cream, warmed
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Scallops and Assembly

  • 16 large sea scallops, side muscle removed
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Finely grated Gruyère (for serving)

Preparation:

Chive Oil

Purée garlic, chives, salt, and oil in a blender until smooth.
Do Ahead: Chive oil can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Potatoes

Place
potatoes in a medium pot and pour in cold water to cover by 1″. Add 2
tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are
very tender but still hold their shape, 15–20 minutes (boiling will
cause potatoes to become waterlogged). Drain and pass hot potatoes
through a ricer (or use a masher) into a large bowl (do this right away;
cold potatoes will become gummy when mashed). Add cream and butter to
potatoes and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until combined and
mixture is smooth; season with salt and pepper.

Scallops and assembly

Pat
scallops dry with paper towels; season both sides with kosher salt.
Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over high. Cook
half of scallops, undisturbed, until deep golden and caramelized, about 3
minutes. Turn and cook until barely golden on second side and just
cooked through, about 2 minutes. Repeat process with remaining 1 Tbsp.
oil and remaining scallops.
Top mashed potatoes with Gruyère and drizzle scallops with chive oil.
Christmas Eve Feast Of The Seven Fishes

Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes

Just in case you’re planning a multi-fish extravaganza for Christmas eve and are still trying to decide what to make, here are some ideas to whet your appetite. I’ve made all of these in years past, and most of them will be on my table again this year, including this spaghetti ai frutti di mare. It was a favorite last Christmas eve, so it makes the cut again for this year. I’ll serve it following the hors d’oeuvres that will be mostly fished-based, except for a couple of dishes for the vegetarians present.  It’s always a juggling act trying to balance the numerous  pots on the burners and dishes in the oven, so that none of them is overcooked (or undercooked.)
So I make sure I have a few things that can be made ahead of time, including this favorite of
baccalà mantecato with grilled polenta that we’ll eat before dinner while sipping prosecco.
My dad arrives with these codfish cakes. They reheat very well in the oven, maintaining their crunchy exterior. We’ll munch on these before dinner too.
If you think you don’t like octopus, you haven’t tried my Octopus and potato salad. It’s almost like eating lobster, especially if you peel the octopus and trim away the “suction cups” after cooking. Get the largest octopus you can find in order to get nice chunky pieces.
If I weren’t making the spaghetti ai frutti di mari, I might be making this dish with squid:
Some years, I’ve skipped the pasta and made this dish instead:
Seafood Risotto
But if there’s one dish that absolutely must be on our Christmas eve table, it’s this one. My son has taken over the preparation of this and has become quite adept at it:
Too many dishes with tomato sauce can make for a lopsided menu, but if stuffed squid’s not your thing, make it easy on yourself and try this swordfish in tomato and caper sauce.
Last year, I added this dish to the menu and everyone loved it. It can be made ahead of time and baked right before serving – swordfish involtini
And if you manage to have a taste of all these dishes, by the end of the evening, you might want to have this handy:
Buon Natale a tutti.
Lunch On A Trabocco

Lunch On A Trabocco

Wouldn’t you like to get away from the throngs of tourists following the same old itineraries through the same old well-trodden tourist sites? Sure, if you come to Italy you don’t want to miss the major art cities like Rome and Florence. But if you want to experience something unique, come to Abruzzo and eat on a trabocco, found only in this small area of Italy’s Adriatic coastline.
The writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, who was born nearby in Pescara,  described these spindly wooden structures as “a colossal skeleton of an antidiluvian amphibian.”
Regular readers of this blog may remember a post I wrote a couple of years ago here introducing trabocchi (plural of trabocco). This year, I actually got to cook on a trabocco with the owners and enjoy an unforgettable meal cooked in a miniscule kitchen beside the sea.
This particular trabocco, Trabocco Punta Tufano, is owned by Rinaldo Veri and his wife Maria, and was rebuilt seven years ago, following a storm in 2006 that destroyed the former structure. But his family has owned a trabocco on this site, near San Vito Chietino,  since 1777. They’re typically made of a wood from trees that grow nearby and are resistant to the weather, called robinia pseudoacacia, commonly known as the black locust, or false acacia. Large nets are lowered from the long wooden arms and fishermen haul in fish that live near the rocks, such an anchovies, squid and octopus.
Inside this wooden building is the kitchen where Maria guided me and a few other visitors in preparing a meal using traditional recipes from the region.
Starting with these anchovies – looking and tasting nothing like what we get in those small cans in the U.S.
Maria showed me the technique used in opening them with one swift move, and removing the skeleton to end up with a fillet.
Then marinating them in vinegar, lemon juice and white wine.
The octopus was cooked in a pot of water, wine, vinegar and lemon juice for about 40 minutes.
And emerged looking like this:
After it was cooled, it was cleaned of some of the suckers and placed in a pot with olive oil, onion, peppers and bits of cherry tomatoes.
Olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes and red pepper were also used in the preparation of these tiny clams.
Maria also showed us how to open mussels and mix the ingredients for stuffing the mollusks. 
After they’re stuffed, they’re cooked in a tomato sauce and given a few minutes in the oven at the end.
 A classic dish of this part of the coast is brodetto, a fish soup made using the catch of the day. In this case, it was scorfano (scorpion fish), merluzzo (cod), and dentice (sea bream or red snapper).
 Brodetto is cooked in the traditional terra cotta pots made in the region.
 By this time, our group had worked up an appetite and we were ready for a drink of prosecco and an appetizer.
 We started with the fresh anchovies that had been marinated and served on slices of bread sprinkled with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, salt and parsley.
 We moved on to the stuffed mussels, and octopus served over polenta.
 The clams were next, loaded with flavor. We sucked every drop of liquid from the shells, before dipping our bread into the liquid left on the platter.
 Then came the pots of brodetto, dotted with clams and mussels above the whole fish.
 I’m sure I went back for two and three helpings.
 Oh yes, and I can’t forget the marinated mackerel fish, bathed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt.
We had to finish with something sweet, and in this case, it was the classic ferratelle or pizzelle, from Abruzzo. All accompanied by various homemade liqueurs, including genziana, a plant that is omnipresent in the Abruzzo countryside.
Afterwards, Rinaldo demonstrated how the nets are lifted above the sea to haul in the fish.
I want to thank this handsome fellow – Fabrizio Lucci of Italia Sweet Italia, for inviting me and a few other bloggers who attended Let’s Blog Abruzzo to come along for this unforgettable experience. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more posts on other adventures in Abruzzo, courtesy of Italia Sweet Italia.

 

 

Marinated Fresh Anchovy Bruschetta
Printable Recipe Here

8 fresh anchovies
1 glass of white wine
1 cup of white vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
cherry tomatoes
chopped parsley
salt
toasted bread

 

  • Debone the anchovies, tear off the head and wash them thoroughly.
  • Place the fillets in a container and cover with vinegar and wine and let them sit for at least an hour, preferably two.
  • Remove the anchovies from the container and dry gently with a clean cloth.
  • Place the anchovies over the bread, add bits of fresh cherry tomatoes, a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a little coarse salt, then finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Octopus And Potato Salad

Octopus and potato salad

Now don’t freak out at the mention of octopus. If I hadn’t told you it was octopus in the recipe, you might think it was shrimp – or lobster. In fact, when cooked properly, octopus not only looks like bits of lobster tail, but even tastes something like it – although more tender to the bite. I’ve eaten it many times, but my favorite octopus memory happened a couple of years ago off the coast of Sardinia when we met Ignazina and Gemi, owners of a fishing boat called “Sampey” and a “Pescaturismo” business.

We were the only clients that day, so rather than give us the full day’s excursion, which included a stop for lunch at a nearby island called Cavoli, they instead invited us out to sea to watch them haul in their catch for free. More tourists were booked for the following day, so Gemi and Igna asked us to come back and they’d repeat the fishing excursion. This time, they’d include an afternoon mooring at Cavoli, a tiny spit of land where Igna and Gemi cooked the day’s catch while we explored the island and swam in the turquoise Mediterranean sea. Since then, I always think of that day when I cook octopus. I don’t thrash mine upon the rocks to tenderize it the way Igna did, but it tastes great nonetheless. Maybe not as good as what I ate that sunny day on that speck of an island, but when you can’t get to Sardinia, hey, you’ve just got to figure out some other way to recapture the moment.

Warning: Octopus shrinks A LOT during cooking, so this will not serve more than a couple of people as a main dish salad. I served it as an appetizer, along with other offerings on Christmas Eve. It was a big hit and was gobbled up in no time.

1 octopus, about 2 pounds (I bought mine fresh, but you can also use frozen.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium size potatoes, boiled and peeled
salt
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic
freshly ground black pepper
dash of red pepper flakes, optional
2 T. minced parsley, optional

The key trick to having a tender octopus is in the cooking. It’s a little daunting the first time you pick up a raw octopus but be brave and dig in. I bought one half of an octopus, already cut by the fish-monger. The next time I make this recipe, I’m going to use a whole one and double the recipe so I can have more to go around.

I have read many different techniques for cooking octopus – from slow simmers in water, to putting a cork in the water to tenderize the octopus. Others say cooking it in water can “seize up” the octopus and toughen it. This method I outline uses no water, but rather lets the octopus cook in its own liquid. It works perfectly and produces a succulent octopus. Just don’t buy baby octopus. They’re too small and chewy and you won’t get large enough pieces.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Put the octopus in a pan with the olive oil and no other liquid. Place over low heat, cover and cook for about 20 minutes. The octopus will have released a lot of liquid. Transfer the octopus and the liquid to a glass or pyrex baking dish and cover. Bake for about one hour. Remove it from the oven and let it cool a bit. It will be very purple in color and will have shrunk significantly. Cut off the top of the head and the little pointy sharp beak and discard. Peel away the purple skin and most of the suckers will peel off too. Rinse under cool water and pat dry. Cut into bite-sized pieces and put in a bowl.

Cut the potatoes into small pieces and add to the octopus. Make a dressing with the remaining ingredients and pour over the octopus. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

Igna and part of the day’s catch on “Sampey.”