Zanzibar Octopus

Zanzibar Octopus

This to me is pure comfort food so lets dispel the myths: octopus is not expensive to buy in the UK; it is easy to cook and, done right, it is absolutely not tough or chewy! And there's no need to be squeamish about preparing the octopus as there's no blood!This is Issam's recipe, and whilst he admits it's nowhere near as good as his Mum used to make back home in Zanzibar, it's authentic and delicious and one of my favourites. Serve with Sam's Swahilian Spinach and rice - yum!

Our eight-legged friend...

You should be able to buy fresh octopus in your nearest fish market or ask a fish monger to order them for you. In York, the small fishmonger in town gets us three decent sized ones for £10 but I've recently discovered them in our smaller than average local Morrisons - I bought 2 smallish ones last week for just over £4 (enough to fill two of us to bursting and have leftovers, so would serve 4) so look out for them where you can and then freeze them until you're ready to cook.

To prepare him, you just need a pair of kitchen scissors.
  1. Wash the whole octopus well under cold running water
  2. Cut off the head at the thinnest part of the neck, carefully avoiding cutting into the eyes
  3. Pull out the ball-shaped innards (in the 'head') by gently pulling away the membrane around the edges to leave a hollow head, a bit like a sock. You can now turn the 'sock' inside out and wash again, pulling off any remaining membrane and the clear plastic-like pieces.
  4. Cut the sock open with scissors, then cut into inch pieces, placing in a collander
  5. Cut off the section containing the eyes, being careful to get both, then discard
  6. You'll now have the leg section dangling in your hands: from the top, push in a finger and psuh out the dark plastic-like piece and discard
  7. Cut off each leg and then cut into inch pieces, checking for any plasticky bits, and place along with the others in the collander
  8. Finally, wash all pieces again to remove any remaining grit or sand

What you'll need for the dish: (to serve 4)

  • Two medium octopus, prepared as above
  • 1 red onion
  • 1/2 red chilli - optional: use if you want a bit of spice or leave out if you prefer mild and creamy
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • inch piece fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 tins coconut milk

The cooking bit:

  • Put a large saucepan or deep frying pan on a fairly high heat and add the octopus, with just the water from washing clinging to it. It will start to curl up, turn pink and relese liquid.
  • Meanwhile, slice the onion and tomatoes thinly into half moons; finely chop the chilli, ginger and garlic.
  • Keep the octopus simmering well for around 20 mins until almost all the water is gone. Turn off the heat and add all the remaining ingredients, seasoning with salt if desired.
  • Put the pan back on the heat and bring to the boil then simmer gently for approx 1 hour. You will need to turn the heat down low once the sauce starts to thicken, probably after about 30-40 mins. Add a little water if necessary but do keep it cooking for the hour - this is important to ensure the meat turns really soft and tender.
Serve simply with rice or add Sam's Swahilian Spinach and a fresh salad.

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