Food & Drinks

Grilled Octopus with Braised Black-Eyed Peas

Tender, steak-like octopus gets topped with a spicy Guajillo chile sauce and homemade pesto, and rests on a bed of nicely stewed black-eyed peas.

“Octopus simmered just until tender and then charred on a very hot grill is, in my opinion, the best way to handle this creature. I love the charred skin with the tender, but still firm, meat, which becomes almost steaklike.”

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Servings: 4

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves
4 Roma tomatoes, quartered
kosher salt
2 tablespoons dried oregano, preferably Sicilian
1 bay leaf
one 750-ml bottle dry white wine
2 lb octopus tentacles, cleaned

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 lb fresh or dried black-eyed peas
kosher salt

for the Guajillo BBQ Sauce:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 dried guajillo chiles
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1⁄4 cup tomato confit
2 cups water
3 tablespoons honey
1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
kosher salt

for the Huacatay Pesto:
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh huacatay leaves, or a mix of mint and cilantro
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1⁄2 cup olive oil
kosher salt
olive oil for drizzling
freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Chef’s Tip: When shopping for octopus, do not buy the preboiled variety often sold at Japanese markets. Better to get it raw, or seek out the high-quality previously frozen product. Ask the fishmonger to clean the octopus for you, as that can be a lengthy process. You want to end up with four to six tentacles, depending on the size. They will shrink considerably, so be aware of that when deciding on quantity. If using dried beans, soak them in room-temperature water overnight for about 12 hours. Dried beans also take longer to cook.

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F [180°C]. In a large, heavy-bottomed ovenproof pot over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until hot but not smok- ing. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and season with salt. Cook for about 5 minutes longer. Add the oregano and bay leaf and pour in the wine. Bring to a simmer and lower the heat to cook at a slow simmer. Slip the octopus into the hot liquid. There should be just enough to keep the octopus submerged, but not swimming in a soup. Add a little water if you need to. Return to a simmer.

2. Cover and cook in the oven until the octopus is very tender and beginning to soften, about 11⁄2 hours. If you apply some pressure with your index finger and thumb on either side of the base of one of the larger tentacles, the flesh should feel firm, but like it’s starting to yield. It should not be rubbery. If the octopus is still too firm, continue cooking until tender, about 20 minutes longer. I like it soft but not mushy. The bouncy texture is part of the fun. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the cooking liquid for 30 minutes. Transfer the octopus to a baking sheet. (You can use the braising liquid in a fish stew.)

3. To make the black-eyed peas: In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf and thyme. Add the peas and water to cover. Season with salt. Simmer the peas until tender and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Add more water as necessary to keep the peas covered until cooked through and becom- ing creamy. Remove the bay leaf. Remove the black-eyed peas from the heat and let them cool in their cooking liquid.

4. To make the BBQ sauce: In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the olive oil, chiles, garlic, and tomato confit and cook until starting to soften and become fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat slightly, cover, and simmer vigorously for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until the chiles have softened and all but about 1⁄4 cup [60 ml] of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and let cool.

5. In a food processor or blender, process the chile mixture to a coarse paste. Add the honey and vinegar and pulse to combine. Taste and season with salt. The mixture should have the consistency of a BBQ sauce, but a bit more runny than store-bought stuff. The flavor should be earthy and spicy, with subtle sweet and acid notes. (The sauce can be made up to 1 day in advance and stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.)

6. To make the pesto: With a mortar and pestle, break down the huacatay and parsley into a paste, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil to loosen slightly. Season with salt. (The pesto can be made 3 or 4 hours in advance and set aside on the counter, covered with plastic wrap until ready to use.) Reheat the peas over low heat while you grill the octopus.

7. Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill (or preheat a gas grill to high). Drizzle olive oil on the cooled octopus and season with salt and pepper. Place on the hottest part of the grill and cook, without moving, until beginning to char on the bottom, about 3 minutes. If the octopus sticks to the grill when you try to move it, continue to cook until it releases easily. Turn and paint the charred side with the BBQ sauce. Cook for another 3 minutes, turn, and paint with more BBQ sauce. The idea is to get a nice char on all sides while painting generously with the sauce on all sides. Once charred, remove from the grill.

8. Ladle the warm peas onto a serving platter. Top with the grilled octopus and the huacatay pesto. Serve warm.

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