Sunday, 7 June 2015

Chargrilled octopus with squid ink, winkles, Jersey Royals, wild garlic and samphire

Now that we’re into June the produce is really coming along. The first broad beans are threatening, and I know it won’t be long until my favourite peas start to make an appearance. Expect many a pea love in anytime soon. We’re still clinging on to asparagus, and lovely Jersey Royal potatoes and samphire are back on the menu. Sadly though this time of year spells the end of the wild garlic season, but I think I’ve rinsed it quite enough; using it wherever possible to flavour stuffings, oils and salads. I’ve just about managed to sneak it into this recipe, but from now on I’ll have to slowly build up my anticipation for next spring. 

One ingredient that I haven’t rinsed is octopus. I probably on average cook one octopus a year, but that definitely needs to change. A more moreish, delicious thing I struggle to imagine. At work we sell a fair few of these lovable beasts every week, but mostly to Spanish or Italian customers who don’t blink at leaving the shop lugging a 3kg cephalopod behind them. The majority of others squirm, or pull a funny face at a glance! I guess they are slightly intimidating if you’ve never had a go at cooking one before, but you quickly learn how easy and satisfying the results are. Nevertheless, and slightly devastatingly, Katie really isn’t a fan, so I always have to try and steal an evening or afternoon when she is elsewhere before I can quench my octopus cravings. A sunny day last week provided the ideal opportunity…
Freezing food rarely improves it, but with octopus (octopi? octopuses? octopus?...) the process performs miracles. Traditionally to tenderise the firm, elastic flesh you would have to bash the living daylights out of it with a mallet, or flail it against the nearest rock. But after a quick stay in the freezer, all of this is done for you. All that is then required is a gentle simmer for just under an hour and it’ll be wonderfully soft. At this point it is ready to eat, and can be tossed through a salad, drenched in marinades or merely sliced and nibbled on at will, but I think that a quick exposure to a fierce heat really gets the best out of it. The deep, savoury, smoky flavour and crispy/soft combination is so addictive. I polished off the lot.
This is less of a hot dish, more along the lines of a warm salad; and as I discovered with the leftovers, is equally delicious cold. The longer that the lemon marinade gets to slosh around and permeate into the potatoes, samphire and octopus the better. And it’s a fact that a bit of mayonnaise will always make things better.  

Serves 4
For the octopus:
1 Mediterranean octopus, the double sucker variety, about 1 kg, cleaned 
2 shallots, sliced 
1 fennel bulb, sliced 
2 garlic cloves 
1 bay leaf 
½ a lemon 
1 large glass of white wine
For the squid ink mayonnaise:
2 sachets of squid or cuttlefish ink 
2 egg yolks 
1 clove of garlic, grated 
1 tsp Dijon mustard 
250ml olive oil 
1 lemon, zest and juice 
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
For the jersey royal potatoes:
4-6 medium-sized jersey royal potatoes, washed 
2 lemons, juice only 
1 large clove of smoked garlic, thinly sliced 
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the winkles and samphire:
2 handfuls of live winkles, purged in salted water for at least 20 minutes 
2 handfuls of samphire 
1 lemon, juice only
To finish:
12 wild garlic leaves, washed

Start by braising the octopus. Put the octopus in a large saucepan along with the shallots, fennel, garlic, bay and lemon. Pour in the wine and top up with an equal amount of water. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes, or until the octopus is very tender. Remove from the pan to a side plate and allow to cool, then remove the head and chop the tentacles into individual pieces.
While the octopus is cooking, boil the potatoes. Put the washed jersey royals into a saucepan and cover with cold, salted water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through. Drain well, then cut into thin slices and arrange in a bowl. Make the dressing by squeezing the lemon juice into a small bowl and adding the smoked garlic. Slowly but thoroughly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified, then season well with salt and pepper. Pour two-thirds of the dressing over the potatoes while they are still warm, then set aside. 

Put the egg yolks for the mayonnaise into a small food processor along with the vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, garlic and lemon zest, then blitz together well. With the motor still running, drizzle in the olive oil very slowly, until it is all poured in and the mixture has emulsified into a thick mayonnaise. Squeeze in the squid ink and the lemon juice and combine well again so that the dark colour permeates the whole mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and loosen the texture with a splash of water if needed. Spoon into a plastic squeezy bottle and set aside.
Bring a small saucepan of well-salted water to the boil. When hot, add the winkles and boil for 3-4 minutes. Drain well, then use a fork to pick the meat out of the shells. Remove the dark stomach sacks and hard feet from each winkle. Heat a generous amount of olive oil up in a large frying pan until it reaches a low-medium temperature. Add a good splash of water, then add the winkle meat and the samphire. Warm through for a couple of minutes. 

Heat a griddle pan up until smoking hot. Coat the octopus tentacles with olive oil, then cook for 2-3 minutes in total, turning once or twice, until lightly charred.
To plate up, arrange two of the octopus tentacles onto each plate, along with a few slices of the marinated potatoes. Dot on a good amount of the squid ink mayonnaise, and spoon some of the samphire and winkles on top of the potatoes. Finish with some of the wild garlic leaves and a drizzle of the reserved lemon and garlic dressing.

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