Sunday, May 26, 2013

Octopus the Greek way

Many people, when they come to Greece, wonder why our food is so delicious even though it is made with simple and quite few ingredients. They are convinced that we’re hiding something, that we keep the secrets to our cooking well so they don’t leak out into the rest of the world.

That is certainly not the case. There is no secret, no tricks or obscure ingredients that we slip into the dishes behind backs or under tables. The only thing that separates Greek cuisine from any other cuisine in the world, is the land on which our food grows. That blessed land that produces such amazing ingredients that no alchemy is needed for them to give any dish their unique taste.

Olive oil, oregano, lemons, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, onions, dill. All these and more, taste so much better in Greece. It’s not chauvinism, don’t get me wrong, I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world and I do realize that, other places, especially in the Mediterranean, have similar quality in fruits and vegetables, but man, if you taste our wild thyme honey, our artichokes, even our meats, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. That is why everyone loves Greek cooking.

What I would like to see some day, is someone like Jamie Oliver who is crazy about Italy, to be crazy about Greece and convince people that they don’t need to go to Tuscany for mushroom picking but also to Grevena. That they can buy not only the Italian Bottarga but the Greek Avgotaraho (PDO) from Mesolonghi.

But let’s get to the recipe, to the octopus. This is something that we Greeks consider simple and unassuming fare. I understand that for many, octopus is a weird beast, sometimes perceived as exotic, others as frightening. This one was prepared and cooked by my grandmother. She is the master of making every single thing she touches taste absolutely divine.

Sweet, succulent octopus, with that distinctive, ever-so-slightly chewy texture and rich flavor. Prepared with just a few ingredients, the success of the recipe depends solely upon their quality and mainly that of the octopus. Fresh would be ideal but frozen can work as well. You don’t need to wait to find yourself in a Greek seaside taverna to have this meze. You can make it yourself.

See you again soon. I have so many recipes to share with you!

Htapodi Ksidato (Greek Octopus with Vinegar, Olive oil and Dried Oregano)
Recipe and execution by my grandmother

You can read a tutorial in this post on how you can clean and prepare a whole octopus.

When there is no need to keep the juices that the octopus releases while cooking, it’s best to boil it in water. This way the octopus also remains juicy.

Yield: 6 meze (appetizer) servings

1 large octopus (about 1½ kg), fresh or frozen
Extra-virgin olive oil
Red-wine vinegar
Dried oregano

Clean and cut the octopus according to the instructions in this post.

Fill a large pot with water halfway and place over high heat. Once the water boils, add the octopus and simmer over medium-low heat, with the lid on, for 50-60 minutes, depending on how tough the octopus is, until tender. Check it after 30 minutes because not all octopuses are the same. Some cook quicker than others, especially frozen ones. Even though you would never want your octopus to be tough and rubbery you most certainly do not want it to be mushy. It's even worse that way.

Once ready, remove it from the pot and place it onto a dish to cool. If you wish, you can remove the skin with your hands. It will come off easily. I rarely remove it and when I do so, I remove only the skin around the top of each tentacle where it is thicker.

Cut the tentacles and sac into small, bite-sized pieces and arrange on a serving platter. Pour olive oil on top (every piece of octopus should be well coated), vinegar (not too much but much like you dress a salad, and a little more) and oregano. Give it a taste and if you think it needs salt, add some. Octopus is usually salty on its own.

You can keep it in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, for 2-3 days. This dish is served cold or at room temperature.


  1. I agree with you, it would be really nice to see some one like Jamie to show more of greek cuisine, or even the portuguese, that is similar in so many ways to the greek.
    And, just like in your case, my grandma used to cook the best and the tenderest octopus: eaten with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika, hmmmm...

    I'm looking fwd to see your other recipes :)

  2. I was introduced to your blog by a blogging friend who is a New Zealand ex-pat in Greece.

    I am so loving getting to know real Greek food and its preparation.

    Who needs Jamie Oliver when there is you??? :) !!

  3. So, so true about the integrity of Greek ingredients... I couldn't agree more! Hahah, I don't think I even knew what olives were really supposed taste like before having the ones in Greece.
    The octopus I had in Heraklion was amazing—even if I tried duplicating it now in London, it wouldn't be the same. Thanks so much for this post!

  4. I agree; I am finding this out in Lebanon; there are so many things lacking here, but the soil, that ancient soil, is giving a bounty unlike anything I have tasted elsewhere; I am sure this is what you mean. I wish I had read your post 3 years ago when I made octopus for the first time and did not know zilc about how to fix it; the kids still ate the risotto. but it was challenging! love that dish prepared simply, and the photos, of course are always pro.

  5. I agree with Liz - you are the new Jamie Oliver! Our best fish monger in Tucson closed, so I hope I can find a while octopus at another market. This looks amazing and really so simple. Even thought you separate the tentacles from the sac, I assume that you simmer them together. Is that correct? ~ David

  6. Oops, that was a "whole" octopus... :)

  7. One I first came to the US I remember preparing some of the simple tomato dishes that were a staple at home in Italy. I kept finding they were not that good. Started wondering if I had not done it right. Then I went back home and had a tomato. And everything was clear.

  8. O you are so totally right Magda... There is something magical about Greek ingredients and Greek food. Funny enough I never liked octopus (as they tend to make them in a horrible way here!) until I went to a Greek restaurant and had one prepared on the grill. Delicious and not rubbery at all!

  9. This is one of the prettiest dishes ever! I do love octopus, but never cook it at home :)


  10. Absolutely beautiful photograph of the interesting and delicious Octopus. I do love to eat them, but have never cooked them as we are far away from the sea. I can just taste the flavors looking at your photos,

  11. "Once ready, remove it from the pot and place it onto a dish to cool. Remove the skin with your hands. It will come off easily"... But the image you show is with the skin on!

    1. I don't know to which image you are referring but most of the skin IS off on the images with the octopus cut into pieces. I'm not fussy about it because I enjoy the texture and taste of the skin and I don't bother with the thin part of the tentacle, but it's up to you if you want to be more meticulous and remove every single bit of skin.

  12. i agree totally with you on your mind about greek cuisine.these ones who could taste and harvest it this lovely cuisine ,is one of the lucky ones .greece is in Food and taste on lots of dishes amazing.......octopus stifado for example....
    i like your blog because i love greece ,lived there for years and will go back there to live there for the rest of my life ,this Country is so rich ,if you walk and open your eyes and smell with your nose.efaristou markus

  13. how do you recommend reheating?

  14. My oil always starts to solidify when I try this dish, after being in thr fridge over night and becomes quite cluggy. Is there any way to stop this?

  15. Hello my friend from across the aegean ; i would like to add a few tips ... while boiling the octopus add a little (like 5 spoons of vinegar) it ll make softer ... also always check octopus every 10 mins with a fork to check if its cooked ; if you cook octopus it ll become harder and it would be harder to eat... if the octopus is freash please let it freeze for a day then let it melt again ... this will make it softer again ( no need to hit it on the rocks to soften it) .... you may want to try it with sweet sour pomegranate extract... those are 2 cents ... best regards to Greece ! :) its always good to have neighbours like you best wishes From Turkey....