Ready to get out of your comfort cooking zone? Perfect! Greek octopus stew with onion, the Greek “htapodi stifado”! You heard that right! Octopus stew! Accept the challenge of cooking octopus and I assure you that a whole new culinary world will open for you.
Because this cute little creature won’t bite you, it won’t come to life and throw ink to your face, it won’t take forever to cook, and it most definitely won’t be hideously chewy or have a bland or funny taste. Prepared and cooked with respect to that beautiful and intelligent sea creature, the octopus can be delectable. It will melt in your mouth like sweet candy and you are going to ask for more. I recommend it even for those who don’t like fish or seafood. Give it a try and have a bite. You won’t regret it!
WHY YOU SHOULD EAT OCTOPUS
Fish and seafood are eaten on a regular base in the Mediterranean diet at least twice per week. The main benefits of this food group come from its omega-3 fatty acid content. Octopus is low in calories and very high in protein as well as an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, and several vitamins.
Now that you know that it is good for your body I have to tell you that it is delicious too. Yes, you need some guidance to cook it properly but once it is done it will delightfully surprise you.
EAT OCTOPUS STEW LIKE A GREEK
Not really interested in details about Greek cuisine? No hard feelings. Jump to Recipe
So, just a few words about this dish. This traditional octopus stew is called “htapodi stifado”.
The word “stifado” signifies every stew or casserole with baby shallots or pearl onions. I won’t get into “the shallot vs pearl onion” fight. I usually find baby shallot onions the perfect pair for my stifado dishes. They are sweet enough to give me the right flavor and texture. So, go for the sweetest baby onions you can find and this dish will work like a charm for you too.
There are excellent stifado dishes with rabbit and beef equally delicious. However, I got a sweet spot for octopus stifado, and go figure out why!
Sharing food is priceless
Octopus with onion stew is a famous meze, an appetizer served with traditional ouzo or tsipouro or white wine while relaxing with good friends and family. The goal here is to share delicious food with good company as often as we can.
Unfortunately, we tend to forget the social impact of the Mediterranean way of eating in search of the perfect recipe. Sharing food with others is fundamental in the Mediterranean and the memory of eating delicious food and laughing our hearts out stays with us forever.
WHERE TO BUY OCTOPUS
The only challenge for that recipe is to find the main ingredient, the star of the dish, the octopus! I know it is rather difficult to find fresh octopus at reasonable prices, so maybe the option for a frozen octopus is better.
Fish markets carry both fresh and frozen octopus and in case you don’t find it, ask your fishmonger to get it for you in a couple of days. If you are lucky to have a well-stocked grocery store near you, don’t hesitate and buy one. Furthermore, you may purchase good quality, usually frozen, baby octopus in Asian markets. Ask the fishmonger to clean your fresh octopus or purchase a cleaned frozen one. Now, you are good to go!
Leave the frozen octopus to thaw overnight and proceed with its preparation.
If not cleaned, you should do it yourself. In case the sac isn’t clean, take your kitchen gloves, place the octopus in the sink, and turn the ink sac inside out. Remove and discard the sac, stomach, and eyes from the large head cavity. It’s messy but easy to do. Rinse well and proceed with the beak.
I have never cleaned an octopus before because it is already cleaned by my fishmonger. (Have I told you that I have THE best fishmonger in the universe? Yeap!! But this is another story for another post). So, I will not pretend to be a clean-an-octopus-expert and that’s why I found this video for you to give you a hand.
It’s not necessary to rub the skin off because the gelatinous, almost fatty, substance gives a nice texture to the sauce.
There are several ways to tenderize an octopus and almost every Mediterranean country has its own version.
The traditional Greek way is kind of cruel because it’s about beating freshly caught octopus against the sea rocks and then rubbing it in a circular motion against the same rocks until it foams up and changes color. I know, poor octopus.
I vividly remember that procedure from summer vacations during my childhood. Imagine a bunch of tanned children wearing their bath suits, sitting on the rocks, and waiting patiently for the adult-amateur fishermen (fathers, uncles, or friends) to return with their catch of the day. Octopus was our favorite catch because we used to help with tenderizing and take it to the nearest tavern or house to grill it. Such a bliss! I still remember the divine taste and this is exactly this memory I recall every time I cook octopus.
For God’s sake, don’t start whacking your octopus against your sink, kitchen floor, or garden pavement stones. You may sometimes skip the tenderizing procedure, if your octopus is small, let’s say less than 1 ½ pounds (680g), and proceed with the cooking procedure. If it is heavier than 2 pounds (1kg), it is better to consider whacking them around with a kitchen hammer or meat cleaver, or any heavy kitchen cookware near you. Guys, don’t overdo it! We need to tenderize it and not mash it.
TIPS FOR THE BEST OCTOPUS STEW WITH ONION
If the octopus is cooked right, its texture is slightly (but pleasantly) chewy and of course delightfully tender. The following tips will make you get the perfect texture and tenderness.
The most important is to simmer, not boil the octopus. Additionally, you don’t have to stir the stew. So, give it time and leave it alone in the pan. In the beginning, we are going to simmer the octopus for 20 minutes. This is a “kill two birds with one stone” cooking technic because you end up with more or less three cups of octopus broth (needed later on) and an even more tenderizing octopus. Clever cooking, isn’t it?
I usually cut a large octopus (2.2 lbs – 1kg) in pieces. I keep the tentacles intact by cutting them at the joints and the sac in large pieces. I save extra cooking time.
Choose shallot onions for that recipe. To peel them easily either leave them in a bowl covered with water in the fridge overnight or leave them in hot water for half an hour. Don’t chop them. Only peel them and let them braised together with octopus.
When cooked, octopus loses a lot of its volume, so don’t assume you did something wrong. Octopus broth is usually salty enough for a perfectly balanced dish. That being said, taste before you add salt.
MY OCTOPUS STEW IS READY! NOW, WHAT?
A perfect pair salad is this traditional cabbage salad.
Don’t forget the wine in case you are a fan. It is a white wine for this dish, at least to my liking. Moschofilero or Assyrtico would be excellent!
If you make this recipe, you have to let me know! I absolutely love your feedback. This is a huge motivation for me and it keeps 30daysofgreekfood’s kitchen alive. Bookmark this recipe and leave your rate and comment below, or take a photo with your Greek octopus stew with onion and tag me on Instagram with #30daysofgreekfood and Facebook with @30daysofgreekfood.
GREEK OCTOPUS STEW WITH ONION
- 1 2.2 pounds (1 kg) octopus, fresh or frozen
- ¼ (50ml) olive oil
- 1 big onion, chopped
- 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 pound (500g) whole baby shallot onions, peeled
- 1 tablespoon grape or white vinegar
- 1 tomato or 1 cup (200g) passata
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
- 10 whole allspice berries
- 3 bay leaves
- Freshly ground pepper
- If frozen, let the octopus thaw overnight.
- Rinse the octopus well under running water to clean well the tentacles and the sac (inside and out). The sac should be empty, eyes and beak removed.*
- Use a kitchen hammer (or other heavy kitchen cookware) to tenderize the octopus, if octopus is over 2 pounds (1kg).
- In a large pan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add the octopus and simmer for 20minutes.
- Meanwhile, boil water in another pan, remove from heat and put the baby shallot onions in to soften for half an hour. Peel them carefully.
- Remove the octopus from the pan. Cut the tentacles at the joints and the sac into 2-4 pieces. Let aside in a bowl.
- Strain the broth and keep 3 cups.
- Use the same large pan (cleaned) and add the olive oil. Sauté the onion and garlic for 3 minutes, add the octopus and sauté for another 5 minutes and finally the shallot onions for another 2 minutes. Pour the broth, allspice berries, bay leaves and pepper. No salt.
- Simmer on medium-low heat for 20 minutes. Check the tentacles and if they are tender enough to be easily pierced with the point of a knife, remove the octopus from the pan. Don’t overcook it. *
- Add the vinegar, the tomato (or passata) and the tomato paste (optional). Simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the shallots onions are tender to taste and the sauce is thick. Remove from heat and add the octopus.
- How to clean an octopus. Watch this video
Cooking time may be considerably less for smaller octopus and twice as long for larger, tougher ones.