Spicy Charred Octopus — A New Recipe

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Can’t tell you how happy I am! My new kitchen is finally finished–after too many days of dust and disruption. Yes! Now I can entertain again.

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Sharing my food with friends.

One of the first dishes I decided to cook after being away from the stove for so long — was “spicy octopus with yogurt and herbs.” And it’s become a real favorite. Tender and tangy, everyone seems to love it.

This isn’t the typical Greek version, seasoned with lemon, oregano, vinegar and olive oil and then grilled. No, this is totally different.

The tastes here are bolder and yet somehow more refined. Subtle hints of the Southeast Asian mix of hot, sour, salty, and sweet in an “attention-grabbing” glaze give a complex dimension to the octopus. Some smokyness is added when the well-glazed tentacles get a good sear.

To me, its addictively delicious! And it looks good on the plate too.

What’s even better, it’s ridiculously easy to make. It really is. First you braise. Then you sear. That’s it. Actually, the octopus is fully cooked after the braise. But don’t stop there — give it that final glazed sear!

Spicy Charred Octopus

Here’s what you’ll need to make the dish:

For the braise:
1 1/2 gallons water
2 lemons, cut in half and squeezed
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup kosher salt
3 bay leaves
3 to 4 lb. octopus (just get the 8 tentacles)

For the spicy glaze:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1″ piece ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 cup Sambal Oelek chili paste
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar

For the plate:
2 cups torn fresh herbs and baby greens
(basil, mint, cilantro, watercress, arugula
and maybe some thinly sliced fennel)
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
A very good olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

The preparation:

Combine all the braise ingredients in a large pot, except the octopus. Bring to a boil and then holding the tentacles with tongs dip them into the boiling water 3 times, leaving them submerged for 3-5 seconds each time. After the final dip, put the octopus back in the pot and cook, partially covered, for 60 minutes. Transfer to a sheet pan to cool.

(Once cooled the octopus can be held in the fridge for up to two days. But I usually do the braise the day before I want to make the dish.)

While the octopus is braising, make the spicy glaze by putting all the ingredients a small bowl and blitzing with an immersion blender. The glaze can be made up to one week in advance, just cover and chill.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. (Take the octopus out of the fridge 1/2 hour before, separate the tentacles and cut into equal lengths.) Splash some olive oil over the tentacles, season with salt and pepper. Then sear, turning from time to time, until charred, 8-10 minutes. Brush with glaze, turning occasionally, until well caramelized, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and add olive oil to coat.

Finally, toss the herb salad with the lime juice and a discrete splash of olive oil. Smear a large dollop of yogurt across each plate, top with octopus and a handful of salad, then drizzle some glaze around the plate.

This is a recipe for four: serve two tentacles per plate as an entree. Or one per as a first course and save the rest for the next night. Maybe serve them sliced with pasta, olives, capers and a light tomato sauce.

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Art Basel Miami — A Cypress Tavern Brunch

Tuna nisçoise

Finding a quiet place for a civilized brunch amidst the madness and bustle of Art Basel Miami is not an easy thing to do. It is, after all, the world’s largest art fair. And this year it set another attendance record.

Luckily, I decided to see if a small restaurant called Cypress Tavern was a possibility — a number of things about the place appealed to me. It’s owned by Chef Michael Schwartz. It’s in Miami’s Design District. And the dinner my wife, Trulee, and I had there last year was more than praise worthy. So was the service and the ambiance.

Calling for a reservation two weeks in advance is a must during art fair week. At least for the better tables in town. So that’s what I did.

Yes, brunch was being served on Saturday. And they had a table for us.

The Cypress Tavern was just what we needed after an intense morning immersing ourselves in the monumental art of Anselm Kiefer at the Margulies Collection, a short, cab ride away. Sitting in the Tavern’s cheery, club-like space was a welcome counterpoint to the dark, monochromatic tones of Kiefer’s beautiful, but unsettling, Neo-realist work.

Brightening things even more was the artful brunch menu. Wood-grilled mushroom salad. Lobster- avocado toast. Wood-grilled giant prawn. Soft polenta, grilled mushrooms and poached egg with truffles. Yellowfin tuna Nicoise. Buccatini carbonara with poached egg.

A James Beard Award-winng chef, Schwartz has been a favorite of mine ever since he opened one of the first restaurants in Miami’s Design District, Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink. His dishes are simple bistro-like fare — but a lot more. Carefully thought out and delicious.

As much as I wanted to try the buccatini carbonara with the poached egg, my choice on this drizzly, art-filled Saturday was the tuna Nicoise. I needed something “salad-light” after the crazy, multi-course meal with friends the night before that was way too rich for my taste.

Some Sancerre seemed to be the right thing to do while we waited to see if what we ordered would live up to our expectations. (Trulee had decided on the polenta, mushrooms and poached egg with truffles.)

Well, the Nicoise was a colorful rendition of the classic dish with perfectly seared tuna and a boiled egg that was possibly the best I’ve ever had — a soft, but not-too-soft, golden center begging to be eaten together with a bite of potato and haricots vert. Lightly dressed with a vinaigrette that must have been made with the best of olive oils, just the right amount of acid and a touch of Dijon, the salad would have satisfied the most demanding of Francophiles. It certainly satisfied moi!

And the poached egg on soft polenta, with mushrooms and truffles?
It was just as good as it sounded! Maybe better.

I guess we could have eaten at one of the uncomfotable, over-crowded, food venues conveniently tucked into Art Basel, itself. Lots of people do. But the more civilized experience at the Cypress made more sense. At least to us. And in addition to the first-rate food, it was quiet enough to eavesdrop on the table next to us where an art consultant discretely counseled a couple on investment opportunities and emerging artists.

Cypress Room 3620 NE Second Avenue / Design District – Miami
305-520-5197 / www.cypresstavern.com

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