If there is one dish that the Greeks do better than anyone in the world, it’s octopus salad. And, after several dismal, dry and bland, attempts at octopus salad in Turkey (like samphire, this is an area that Turkish cooks just seem to get wrong), I was really looking forward to the authentic Greek deal.
One sight that sums up memories of the Greek seaside for me is a fisherman beating an octopus to tenderise it, then hanging it out on the line like so much laundry.
And one taste that defines the Greek seaside is that wonderful Greek octopus salad. Done well, it’s succulent, moist, imbued with vinegar yet rich with golden olive oil, with hints of sea salt, oregano and, in all honesty, very little else.
This is one I had at Mytilini, an airy beachside taverna cum beach bar in the windsurfing mecca of Finikounda, in the Peloponnese. It was so good that everyone ordered it next time we visited.
How to make it?
Well, any right-thinking lazy cook will buy their octopus ready-prepped, which is to say cleaned, tenderised and without its head (if you haven’t this explains how to prep it).
Your first step is to boil the octopus slowly with a little salt for about an hour. I personally love the pop the little suckers on the tentacles make in the mouth, but if you object to those you can always peel away the exterior of the tentacles once it’s done.
Then chop it into pieces, about half an inch thick with the exception of the twiddly bits, and chuck it in a jar or a covered bowl with two parts wine vinegar to one part olive oil, some peppercorns and some oregano (fresh if you can get it), and perhaps a crushed garlic clove or two.
You need to use a good-quality olive oil, with a mild flavour and a colour that is gold, not green — the dark green extra virgin stuff that gourmet stores in Anglo cultures charge the earth for will overpower the octopus’ delicate flavour.
Leave it for at least 12 hours, or even a couple of days. To serve, extract from the bowl. Drizzle with fresh olive oil and sprinkle with crushed sea salt.
Do not, I repeat NOT, add any veggies at all. Despite the name, Greek octopus salad is really more of a meze. Adding salad to it is just plain wrong.