I love it when I finally get round to cooking something that I’ve had on my mind for ages. Ever since watching Raymond Blanc create his ‘tomato essence’ during the Kitchen Secrets series, I’ve had it down on my ‘to do’ list but have never got round to it. This recipe involves loads of long winded processes and planning, but this weekend I got my act together and it was well worth it.
I have followed similar stages to Raymond in making it, but have tweaked the ingredients slightly. I thought that oregano would add a nice citrus element that would give the basil and tomatoes a more rounded flavour. Although the consomme is quite intense on it’s own and would make a lovely elegant starter (or even be great in a cocktail or bloody mary), I wanted to use it as part of a bigger dish. Enter another ingredient that I had been wanting to use: octopus. I recently spotted some Cornish octopus at my local fishmonger, and that was too good an opportunity to miss. It was time to tell if the dish that I had in my head would come together into something good.
I have had octopus a couple of times before in Spanish restaurants to mixed results. Most of the times it has been beautiful and tender, like a meatier version of squid. However, on one time it was awfully tough and quite unpleasant, so even though I wanted to cook it, I knew that I had to approach it with care. After doing some research, it appeared that freezing the octopus for 48 hours was recommended before some long slow cooking and a final flash fry. Flavour-wise, octopus is again similar to squid in being subtle and almost tasteless, and it needs something adding to it. I thought that the tomatoes, basil and shellfish would go perfectly with this to create a dish that was light and not too overpowering.
Although this meal took a lot of time to prepare, most of the steps were really simple and didn’t feel like the massive slog that I expected it to be. The main thing is patience, especially with the consomme where I had to resist the urge to squeeze the bag of muslin. In order for the liquid to be a pure, clear colour, it must gently drip out without being forced. It might seem like a lot of tomatoes to waste just to collect the liquid, but don’t throw them away - they can easily be turned into the base for a sauce or stew on another occasion.
The other parts of the dish are all quite simple, and can easily be prepared whilst the octopus is poaching. The only difficult thing is right at the end when a lot of pans are used to cook everything before serving. But it was worth it in the end, and unlike many recipe combinations that I dream up in my head, the finished dish worked really well.
For the consomme:
1.2kg cherry tomatoes
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1/2 bunch basil, leaves torn roughly
10 sprigs oregano, leaves picked
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
Large pinch of salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
For the octopus:
2 medium octopuses, around 300g after being cleaned
1 fennel bult, chopped roughly
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 shallot, chopped roughly
1 carrot, chopped roughly
3 sprigs thyme
1 lemon, zest only
Salt and pepper
For the marinate:
3 tbsp olive oil
2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
1 lemon, juice only
1/2 red chilli, sliced roughly
For the chilli oil:
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 red chillies, finely sliced
4 strips lemon zest
Shells from the prawns, roasted
3 large prawns, shells kept for the chilli oil
Salad fennel, basil and oregano leaves
Prepare the octopus and tomato consomme a couple of days in advance of serving.
Gut and clean the octopus, wrap in cling film and freeze for 48 hours. This will help to tenderise the octopus which can sometimes be tough.
For the tomato consomme, halve the cherry tomatoes and put in a large bowl with the fennel, shallot, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, bay, salt and sugar. Stir well to combine, seal with cling film and put in the fridge for about 6 hours.
When the marinating time is up, remove the tomatoes from the fridge. Using a food processor, pulse the tomatoes in batches until they are roughly chopped. Wrap the mixture with 2 layers of muslin and carefully hang above a large bowl overnight. Let the juices gently drip from the muslin bag without moving or squeezing; you want the consomme to be clear and not cloudy. When all of the liquid has been collected, set aside and chill until needed.
On the day of cooking, again the octopus needs to be thawed out and put on first. Put the fennel, shallot, carrot, garlic, bay, lemon zest and pepper into a saucepan and cover with a good amount of water. Bring to a simmer then add the octopus and continue to simmer for between 1-2 hours, or until very tender. While the octopus is cooking make the marinate by combining the oil, lemon juice, chilli, thyme and seasoning. When the octopus is ready, remove from the saucepan (keeping about 250ml of the liquid), cut each tentacle away and the body into pieces and add to the marinate.
While the octopus is cooking prepare the rest of the ingredients. Peel the prawns, reserving the shells, and cut into 1cm pieces. Set aside until needed. Heat the oven to 200ºC, and when hot, roast the shells for a couple of minutes until lightly coloured.
To make the chilli oil, pour the extra virgin olive oil into a small saucepan and add the roasted shells, sliced chillies and lemon zest. Gently heat the oil on a low heat for about 5 minutes, without letting it get too hot. You just want to warm the ingredients up enough to infuse the oil without cooking them. Turn the heat off then allow the oil to cool down in the pan. Strain into a bowl and set aside.
Using a mellon baller, cut out circles of the courgette leaving the skin still on one side. If you don’t have a mellon baller then cut the courgette into 1/2” pieces.
When the octopus is cooked and marinating, get everything ready to finish up.
Put three quarters of the finished consomme into a small saucepan and bring up to just before simmering.
Heat up a saucepan to a medium temperature and add the remaining quarter of the consomme. When the liquid is hot, add the courgette pieces and cook for a couple of minutes. Tip in the prepared prawns and continue to poach gently for another two minutes, until the prawns are cooked and the courgettes still have a little bit of bite.
At the same time as the courgettes are cooking, put another saucepan on to a medium - high heat. When hot add the reserved octopus stock and bring to the boil. Add the clams and cover the pan, giving it a little shake. Keep covered for about two minutes, or until the clams open. Season with a little salt and pepper.
Finally, finish cooking the octopus by heating a non-stick frying pan on a high heat. When hot, add the octopus pieces and a little of the marinating juices and fry quickly for a minute on each side. Season well.
To plate up, arrange the octopus in the centre of a shallow bowl. Surround with the cooked courgettes, prawn pieces and clams, and drizzle with a little of the chilli oil. Top with some of the salad fennel, basil and oregano leaves, then carefully pour in some of the warm consomme.