I’m fascinated by octopus. The appearance of tentacles appeals to me, and I think it makes octopus different from any other animals we eat.
I hear as creatures, they’re enigmatic and highly intelligent. Although their aptitude for solving puzzles has nothing to do with how they taste, their uniqueness makes me appreciative of the animal as a cooking ingredient.
I’ve wanted a pet octopus ever since seeing the old-school James Bond movie, Octopussy. But taking reality into consideration, I’m still weighing the pros and many cons of housing an active aquarium in my apartment. Maybe one day, when I don’t have a dog who would knock that tank over within minutes of it being installed.
During our family’s trip to Spain years ago, I remember being served a simple charred octopus – a preparation widely used there. I remember loving that. Here, I saute the octopus on its own, which releases juices from the meat. Those juices are used as a cooking liquid for the risotto in place of seafood stock midway through the cooking, and gives it a gorgeous warm color and infuses the grains of rice with unadulterated octopus flavor.
Saffron is a great addition here as well, as it is with pretty much any brothy seafood dish. The threads contribute to the reddish color of the risotto. It really doesn’t take more than a small pinch to get that familiar saffron-colored tinge.
I didn’t intend to put red chard in the risotto, but came across it in the produce aisle. It must be a beet-chard hybrid, because eaten raw the stalks had a strong beet flavor. The combination of the distinct tentacles and the bright red chard make for a visually appealing dish, that happens to taste phenomenal as well.
Upon receiving the wrapped octopus at the seafood stall, the purveyor said, “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you planning to do with this?”
I responded with an octopus risotto – one that I’ve never made before. It was a good question. And a question I’d like to be asked more frequently. What’s more fun than giving boneless, skinless chicken breasts a break for once, and cooking those odd bits?
I N G R E D I E N T S
- 3 / 4 lb. octopus tentacles, cut into 1 1 / 2 inch chunks
- 1 1 / 2 cup arborio rice
- 1 stick butter, salted or unsalted
- 2 cups red chard, stems intact, chopped roughly
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons sherry
- 1 cup parm reg, grated
- 1 quart seafood stock
- 1 pinch saffron, approximately 1 / 2 teaspoon
- Olive oil, as needed
- Salt, as needed
- Pepper, as needed
D I R E C T I O N S
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sautee pan. Add the chard, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes on medium-low heat, adding the sherry midway through the cooking to allow the greens to braise. If the mixture gets too thick, add 1 / 4 water as needed. The chard is done when the stems are tender. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- In another sautee pan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the octopus pieces, a large pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Sautee the octopus for 5 to 7 minutes on medium heat, until the octopus is firm and cooked through. If the octopus is translucent in places, it is not fully cooked.
- Remove the octopus pieces to a separate bowl, and keep the juices that were released from the octopus for later, when it will be added to the risotto as cooking liquid.
- In the meantime, heat the seafood stock in a small saucepan, until just simmering. Keep on low heat throughout the cooking process.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the stick of butter until melted, and add the onion, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Sautee until the onions are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional minute. Add the rice, and allow to toast slightly in the butter, onions and garlic, about 2 minutes. Add the first ladleful of seafood stock and stir until combined. When the mixture begins to get slightly sticky and dry, add another ladleful of stock.
- After 10 minutes, instead of the seafood stock, add the juices from the sautéed octopus. Stir. Add the saffron as well, along with a large pinch of salt, and pepper, as needed for taste. When the rice begins to get sticky again, continue to add the seafood stock. Cook for an additional 10 minutes with the seafood stock as a cooking liquid.
- Once the rice reaches a near al-dente consistency, add the octopus pieces, red chard from the sautee pan, juices and all, and the parm reg. Add an additional ladle of stock, as needed, to finish cooking.
- Serve hot immediately, topping with parm reg, if desired.