In accordance with the Cantonese obsession with fresh seafood, every imaginable mollusc, crustacean and fish were available in open seafood tanks near the pier in Sai Kung, in the New Territories in Hong Kong. Restaurant punters touting for the string of seafood restaurants along the pier would recommend specific fish or shellfish and scrawny youths in oversized Wellington boots would clamber awkwardly along the rims of the tanks and net the particular item ready to be cooked any way you liked.
Out of curiosity, one afternoon, I asked the boy if he had any octopus and he began to scramble over the tanks, net in hand. Amazingly, the octopus saw him coming and made a determined and exciting bid for freedom, rapidly climbing out of its tank into an adjoining one diagonally opposite the net boy. Again and again, he evaded the increasingly frustrated attempts to snare him and I swear I heard it squawk in anguish as it clambered desperately from tank to tank. Enough is enough, I thought and I cancelled my order and had an insensate lobster instead.
So much for the live beast and here in Fremantle, octopus, ready cleaned and vacuum packed, has a justifiable reputation as being one of the world’s best seafood feasts on account of its size, flavour and tenderness.
|1 kg. Raw, cleaned octopus||½ cup white vinegar||4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil|
|2 Tbsp lemon juice||Fresh thyme||Fresh mint|
|1 red chilli (optional)||Salt & ground black pepper||½ Tbsp smoky paprika|
|Romaine / Iceberg lettuce||Lemon wedges|
- Wash the octopus by rubbing vigourously with a handful of coarse salt. Rinse well and remove central beak by pushing through from the underside.
- Bring 3 to 4 litres of water to the boil in a large pot, add the vinegar and place the whole octopus in the boiling water. Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the octopus swells in size and turns a delicate pinky-red colour. Test to see if cooked by tearing a tentacle off. If it comes away easily, the octopus is cooked to perfection.
- Drain and cool.
- Remove tentacles and cut into bite-sized chunks. Cut the central part of the body up into similarly sized pieces.
- Deseed and chop the chilli, remove the thyme and mint leaves from their stalks.
- Place the olive oil and lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper in a large bowl and mix. Add the octopus, chopped red chilli and the roughly torn mint and thyme leaves. Stir to coat the octopus with the dressing and set aside for 1 hour (preferably over night in the fridge) to absorb the flavours. If kept in the fridge, take out 1 hour before serving.
- Arrange crisp, lettuce leaves on a platter, spoon octopus pieces and dressing over the lettuce and sprinkle with smoky paprika. Garnish with fresh mint and lemon wedges.