From offal to octopus

December 21, 2011

I’ve been doing loads of food writing lately:  a couple of features for national magazines coming out in the new year, as well as a blog post for the wonderful Kathryn Elliott which I’ll put up here shortly. And I am about to start checking the first pages of my book about cooking coming out in May – all of which is very gratifying but has left little time for hanging round here, my most comfy corner of the internet. Coming back here is kind of like flopping on the couch in your trackydaks after being out in the grownup world…

One of the mag pieces was another foray into the world of offal  (I’ll let you know when it’s published so you can read the whole horror show then if you like), an attempt to overcome the aversions I spoke about a while back. And while I certainly received a comprehensive innard education this time round and the experience was well worth it, I’m afraid I haven’t yet been seduced over to the dark (in)side.

There was one excellent side effect though – cooking this stuff gave me a few ideas for new (offal-free!) dishes to try. The kidney I made from Stephanie Alexander’s recipe, for example, came with a truly delicious spinach in a marsala sauce, which I would never ever have come across if I hadn’t been forced to go there for the K-word. And while my tripe was not something to write home about by any stretch – again – the braising liquid and other ingredients were incredibly good. The whole time we ate it I was thinking how good it would be with octopus instead of tripe, and so I made it at the earliest opportunity. And my oh my, it delivered.

Braised octopus is one of those dishes you need to eat before you can fully understand its appeal – it’s good simple peasant food with layers of kickarse flavour, but a lovely sumptuous texture as well. A few weeks after I made ours we dined with the Empress who served the most delicious ‘French-style braised octopus’ from a Kylie Kwong recipe that’s handily online here. One of the things I have always loved about our Empress’s cooking is her confident, natural flair with a really simple dish. This one she served with a green salad and some excellent sourdough, and nothing could have provoked more blissed-out groans from the table. Lord it was good.

The other great thing about octopus (apart from its unnerving intelligence, capacity for problem-solving and using tools, not to mention camera theft – they really are going to take over the world, you know) is that it gets the thumbs up for sustainability, unlike nearly every other kind of fish and seafood we eat. And – bonus of bonuses – it’s cheap.  I am about to embark on life as a full-time student next year, which I suspect means this blog will be taking on a whole new shade of Dining Broke frugality, given that the vast bulk of our household spending goes on food and wine … so occy dinner is de riguer student food methinks.

Anyhow, here’s my version of braised octopus, mangled together from various recipes – the photo doesn’t show the white beans, which were an addition to leftovers the next day, but were so good I’m putting them in the final recipe.

Who says offal never gave me anything?

Braised baby octopus with chorizo & white beans

  • 3 rashers bacon cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 head garlic, cloves roughly chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 400ml or more red wine
  • 2 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 bottle (700g) tomato passata
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 2 red chillies, split
  • 1 kg cleaned baby octopus
  • 10 halved cherry tomatoes or equivalent small tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • Half to 1 chorizo sausage, sliced & fried
  • 1 cup (or more) cooked /canned & drained white beans
  • Salt & pepper

  1. Heat some oil in a heavy based casserole and fry the bacon, onion, celery and garlic till soft, with bay leaves.
  2. Add wine, oregano, passata and stock and bring to the boil. Add octopus and simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Stir in chopped tomatoes, white beans and chorizo rounds and cook gently for another 15 minutes or until octopus is tender.
  4. Check seasoning and serve in shallow bowls.

Have you made a version of this? Or do you have another cephalopod favourite you’d like to share?


  1. I enjoy your writing style, very entertaining and great reading. I hope there won’t be any tripe recipes, please… gah! Hate it. Occy is good, especially braised. Congrats on the food book, I look forward to reading it.

    • Thanks, Ms BizzyLizzy! Tripe recipes, hmm – well you can rest assured there won’t be an *oversupply* of them in anything I write …

  2. Completely off topic, but your octopus stealing camera reminded me of http://youtu.be/rIu5B3Fsstg seagull stealing camera. Both excellent, but I’ve never eaten seagull.

  3. Hi Charlotte

    I love your writing too, but for whatever reason, I am sick of reading about food! Perhaps because a big family lives here and no one seems too interested in cooking, but despite this, they want to eat well. A quick count: one vegetarian who has gone sugar free, two meat lovers who think she is crazy, a couple who eat anything and me…..I’d happily live on homemade muesli and bananas! I seem to have arrived at the point where I remember my mum being: after half a lifetime spent shopping, carting and cooking, she ended up preferring to eat cereal for dinner and paint instead. That’s me, except it is writing that woos me from the kitchen. I read novels to get away from kitchen matters! I hope your next book makes me happy. I’ll buy it (of course) and cross my fingers it is more than another cookbook.

  4. This has all my favourite flavours! I am definitely going to give it a go after the Christmas chaos is over.

  5. As I’ve just become single recently, and thats not a bad thing, I now have to be frugle (which I believe means sensible) so will be following you closely. Just love having someone to talk to about food in such an interesting and passionate manner. Keep it coming!
    Nancy x

  6. Are you letting yourself out of the innards hell now, Charlotte? I mean, I seriously admire your fearless dedication and tenacity, but I also think it’s perfectly sane to conclude that some food aversions are here to stay – although hats off to you for turning yours into paid employment! Shall look forward to reading the piece/s when they publish. Still, you say offal and I say awful! No wonder all the accompanying sauces and side dishes are so very tremendous – they HAVE to be to disguise the disgusting fact of tripe and kidneys and other wobbly bits. Ugh. Enough to make me gag just thinking about it. SURELY the single greatest thing about being a grown up is being able to stop eating this shit??!

    Also dropped in (or should that be blobbed in?) to say merry everything – see you on the other side! xx

  7. I love octopus, and this sounds delicious. I had slow-braised octopus a few years ago that was so tender, you could practically cut it with a spoon. I’m wondering if this recipe could be adapted for that purpose – maybe a long, low braise in the oven?

  8. Love this recipe, i really like baby octopus but has no idea how to cook it other than BBQ it. thanks for the post!

  9. Hi Charlotte

    I just read your ‘nose to tail challenge’ article. That shed some very helpful light on the offal subject that I will be addressing at times this year. Having not really eaten any before and certainly not cooked it I found some good, real tips as to the reality of cooking such things as tripe. Which, I will probably avoid, unless I get desperate…
    Some of the others sound good, and I’m interested to try cooking and taste!


  10. […] ages I’ve wanted to try cooking Big Octopus, as opposed to the baby version which has always seemed much more approachable. But over the last while, a few thick slices of […]

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