Of all foods I have been trying during my almost thirty years of existence, nothing comes close to the delights of the mysterious octopus. This mollusc is by far my favourite of all ocean treats. I love it in ceviche with salsa verde, fried as an entrée, roasted with floury potatoes or above all in delicious moist chouriço and red wine rice. It has always been one of the Sunday meals in my parents house. My mum would wash it first with lemon and vinegar, then cook it on a battered coppery pressure cooker with a hint of red wine and an onion. She then would fry some golden onion with a strong chouriço from the north of Portugal and add the burgundy coloured chopped octopus, the rice, a bit more wine, fresh herbs and the stock from the pressure cooker, enough to make the rice wet or ‘malandrinho’ which is the synonymous for lazy, relaxed or even naughty. If the octopus was large enough, she would keep some of its tentacles in the fridge and I confess that sometimes, after a night out with friends, I would feast on cold octopus, drizzled with lemon and dunked in velvety mayo. I once saw in the South of Portugal how they fished octopus, in deep yet small terracotta pots that would be filled with bait and laid on the seabed. After hours, they would be collected and for sure the molluscs would be stuck at the bottom of the pot, then to be removed by some drops of lemon or an even stronger acid. I always loved to see the coloured pots drying on the shores, mountains of orange terracotta traps laid down drying. For those who are a bit sceptical about the gorgeous octopus, give it a go. If you love the things from the sea you will love its fresh, slightly iron-like flavoured meat, versatile in so many ways.
For dessert I shall not forget one that comes from the most incredible monasterial dessert heritage Portugal has. This recipe comes from the wonderful “Convento de Cristo”, a 12th century convent built by the Knights Templar, in the city of Tomar. It is said that these slices were favoured by the monks that inhabited this beautiful and iconic convent.
1 small octopus (approx 750g)
splash of red wine
1 red onion
1 small bunch of fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay)
salt & pepper
2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 small onion
150g of sliced chouriço
3 small glasses of long grain rice
1 small glass of red wine
8 glasses of the stock of cooking the octopus
salt & pepper
Wash the octopus very well under a running tap, then rub it with a lemon and some drops of vinegar. Place it in a pressure cooker (if you have it), or in a pan with the onion, the wine, the herbs, salt & pepper and cover it with water. Cook it for at least an hour. When ready, remove it from the pan, chop it in chunks and set it aside, together with the cooking water.
Chop the onion very finely and fry it in the olive oil, add the garlic and the chouriço. Let its juices flow, add the wine and let it reduce. Add the octopus and the rice. Mix everything well and then add the stock. Season well. Let it simmer till the rice is cooked but always checking if there is enough stock so the rice does not dry out. If so add a bit more stock. Serve immediately, and if you prefer, with a spoon of crème fraiche on top.
“Fatias de Tomar” – Slices from Tomar
12 egg yolks
15g of unsalted butter
500g of sugar
250ml of water
2 tbsp of honey
2 tbsp of rosewater
1 tbsp of orange blossom water
1 star anise
In a bowl, beat the yolks for 20 minutes. They will double their size and turn very fluffy. Place them in a buttered pudding basin and cook them in a bain-marie for 30 minutes. Test if they are cooked by inserting a tooth pick in the centre of the basin which should come out dry. Let them cool down completely, then cut into slices 2 cm thick. Place the slices on a deep serving dish or bowl.
Prepare the syrup by placing the sugar, water, honey, rosewater, orange blossom water, star anise in a pan to a medium heat. Let it simmer slowly for 15 minutes. Take it off the hob and let it cool down completely.
Soak the slices with the syrup and serve, if preferred with some rose petals on top.