Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Smoked octopus with charred peppers, preserved lemon and almond puree

The octopus had been in the freezer for a long time. A spring purchase, I had taken it home with big intentions; a light green broth perhaps, or fried in chilli to top a pea risotto. But somewhere along the line I was distracted, and the eight-legged beast had a little more time to acquaint itself with the lost myriad of ice-burnt fish fingers, three-quarter used packets of peas and random chunks of meat jostling for a way out of the cold. But as the summer came on, the octopus was the over-familiar leftover at the party and was more than starting to outstay its welcome. It’s shear bulk in such a tiny icebox meant that competition was tight, and with this heatwave, when a decision needed to be made between having room for an octopus or a box of Soleros, there was only one winner. 

But the octopus was not alone, and was joined by many of my culinary outcasts in this recipe. Enter the humble bell pepper, which has rarely (if every) appeared on this blog. Sometimes too sweet, sometimes just the wrong texture, I have no malicious feeling towards peppers. But they are just something that I never seem to crave. Until now that is. The combination of smoky, salty octopus and soft charred peppers seemed to get a big thumbs up in my head.
Of course, the smoking side of this recipe isn’t essential. It would be perfectly acceptable (delicious, even) to grill the tentacles after the initial braising process. But I do like a bit of DIY food experimentation, and I’m always surprised with the amount of flavour that comes out of a bit of hay and a deep roasting dish. As with anything that releases your inner pyromaniac, it’s always best performed in an open, outdoor space, with a fire-quenching aid to hand.
Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch
1 x 2kg octopus (double sucker variety), previously frozen and thawed out 
A few good handfuls of hay, to smoke
For the charred peppers:
2-3 red and/or yellow peppers 
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
1 lemon 
A pinch of dried chilli flakes 
2 preserved lemons, centres scooped out and discarded 
A few sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves picked
For the almond puree:
300g blanched almonds 
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced 
2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped 
1 lemon
To finish:
A few more oregano leaves

Pop the octopus into a large saucepan and add 250ml of water. Bring to the boil, then lower to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until the tentacles are very tender. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from the liquid and slice off each tentacle. Discard the head. 

Set a heavy griddle pan over a high heat. Rub the peppers with a little olive and sear for about 5 minutes on each side, until blackened and blistered. Remove to a deep bowl and cover with cling film. Allow to cool down, then slice into thin strips. Pour a good glug of oil into a small saucepan and add the garlic and the chilli flakes, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes until softened, then remove from the heat. Finely chop the preserved lemon and add to the pan along with the oregano leaves, lemon juice and 2 tbsp olive oil. Stir well, then pour all over the sliced, cooked peppers.
Bring a large frying pan to a medium heat and add the almonds. Toast for a few minutes, until lightly browned, then pour over a good glug of olive oil. Stir in the garlic and chopped rosemary along with some seasoning, and fry gently for a further 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and blend well. Squeeze in the lemon juice and slowly add 3 tbsp of olive oil. With the motor still running, slowly pour in a little cold water to loosen the puree, until it is soft and smooth. Taste and season, and pass through a sieve if necessary. 

To smoke the octopus, scatter the hay onto the bottom of a heavy baking tray and top with a wire rack. Arrange the tentacles onto the rack, and use a large sheet of foil to seal. Carefully light the hay with a long match and allow to smoke for a couple of minutes. Place the smoked octopus onto a metal tray and use a blowtorch to crisp up the edges.
To serve, spoon the puree onto each plate and top with the octopus, pepper slices and a good drizzle of the flavoured oil. Finish with a scattering of fresh oregano leaves.

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