It took me years to acquire a taste for octopus. 33 long years to be exact.
I was about nine years old when I discovered this delicacy. We were at a beach house here in Haiti. Chatwouj was on the menu. I had no idea what sea creature that was. But I was curious to try it. Until someone told me it was actually octopus. I immediately pictured it with its long tentacles. Ursula from the Little Mermaid even came to mind. There was no way I would bite into a chunk of her body.
Fast forward ten years later
I was on an adventure trip with 400 teens from around the world. A backpacking trip, which often landed us in remote areas with limited car access. When that happened, we were fed army food. And I mean that literally. I remember the first time I received that khaki colored box with the Spanish flag on it. I was confused. That would be our dinner. When I opened that box, I found a bunch of cans. The main item on the menu was labeled: pulpo, octopus in Spanish. I reluctantly opened that can. It was filled with a gelatinous and slimy pink substance filled with grains. It rebuked me. Biting into the grainy bits was no fun. But I had no choice. I had to eat it. Or else, I would starve. From that day on, I promised myself I would never eat that mollusk.
Yet, a few weeks ago, I was going to give it a second chance.
A friend was raging about how delicious octopus was. I had to try it. On our next outing, I opted for the grilled octopus dish on the menu. It came beautifully displayed atop squid ink risotto. There was no gelatin or slime. Only a perfectly tender grilled octopus tentacle. I was hooked.
Right here and there, I decided that I had to try and prepare it myself. About a week later, I bought my very first raw octopus. I had no idea how to clean it. And no one to teach me. Thankfully, the Internet can teach you anything. So, after watching a few videos and reading a few instructions, I extracted the beak and cleaned my octopus. I then prepared a wine broth in which I dipped the mollusk in it a few times for its tentacles to curl up. After about 45 minutes, I turned the stove off. My octopus was perfectly tender. I let my cooked octopus marinate in a spicy lemony piment bouc sauce for a few hours. I grilled it, and served it drizzled with the same spicy sauce.
My exploration did not stop there. The next day, I used the leftovers for a quick snack. I topped some toasts with sour cream, black lava salt, black sesame seeds and a piece of octopus. It was one of the best snacks I ever had.
Haitian-style spicy grilled octopus
- 1 medium-sized previously cleaned octopus
For the broth
- 1 cup of white wine
- 2-3 cups of water enough to submerge the octopus
- 3 Bay leaves
- 3-5 garlic heads
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp chili
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
For the spicy sauce
- 5 shallots chopped
- ½ red onion chopped
- 1 piment bouc chopped
- 3 juice of lime
- Olive oil
- Fresh Parsley
- In a pot, combine all the broth ingredients. Make sure to add enough water to cover the octopus
- Bring all the ingredients to a boil
- Let simmer for about 10 minutes for the flavors to be infused
- Dip the octopus in the water 2 or 3 times for about 10 seconds each time. This helps the tentacles curl up
- Submerge the octopus completely in the broth
- Cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hours, until the octopus is tender. Be careful not to overcook it for that can have the reverse effect, and make your octopus chewy
- Take the octopus out of the water and cut it into small pieces
- In a bowl, combine the spicy sauce ingredients
- Drizzle that sauce atop the cut octopus
Drizzle generously with the olive oil
- Cover and let marinate in the fridge for a few hours. I left mine overnight
- Fire up a cast iron grill
- Once it is hot, grill the octopus for about 5-10 minutes on each side or until it is crispy on the outside
- Serve with the spicy sauce as an appetizer, side or snack