Greek Octopus with Ouzo, Fennel and Olives
This summer, for our vacation, we went to Panos’ parents place in Evia island (also known as Euboea). Evia is the second largest Greek island and isn’t much advertised abroad.
Since it’s a large island, you’ll need a car in order to visit the dozens available beaches. Some roads are old and full of curves, because Evia has a high mountain ridge in the middle. So, in order to visit some great Aegean beaches you have to climb this ridge, called Dirfys. The beaches you will visit on the other side, if you take the time to drive there, are…simply put, beyond any description! They definitely worth the effort.
Panos’ parents have a cottage in the central-south part of the island. They have a large organic vegetable garden and lots of trees which produce an abundance of lemons, oranges, tangerines, olives, pomegranates, prunes, sour cherries, figs, quinces, medlars, blackberries, apricots…you get the picture!
Panos reading some recipes on the veranda and my shadow as I take this picture.
As you can guess, such place is simply… a paradise for any foodie! That’s why we visit the place all year round, during weekends, taking the opportunity to enjoy seasonal vegetables and fruits and get in touch with nature.
So our time was divided between harvesting veggies and fruits, tasting new recipes, cooking classic homemade Greek dishes, driving through the mountains to discover new beaches and …taking some time off work to fill our bucket! It was really quality time spent.
Beach on the Aegean side of Evia. On the top right, the mountain roads leading there.
Enough with our constant daydreaming though! Time to get back in our kitchen and our recipes Do you remember our Poll back in July? Well, the second recipe voted in the Poll was octopus with olives and ouzo. 28% of the people voted for this one, much to our amazement. We always thought that octopus is a bit intimidating as an ingredient, for people who don’t live in the Mediterranean, East Asia, Central and South America.
On the other hand, our blog’s statistics for our two other octopus recipes (Stewed baby octopus in tomato sauce with rice and Roasted octopus with vinegar) as well as your votes in the Poll have proven that octopus is starting to become popular in other parts of the world as well, including the United States, Central Europe, Russia and Australia!
Panos checking the pomegranates. Not ripe yet, but grown and getting there!
So let’s talk about the octopus recipe you voted for: Octopus with ouzo, fennel and ouzo! This is a wonderful recipe for any season, but we prefer cooking octopus in the summer. The reason is that in the summer you can also enjoy a small glass of ice cold ouzo in a sunny veranda or a garden, to enjoy the octopus with. Plus, it’s the perfect meze (appetizer) for a seafood dinner if you’re having some friends or family over. In order to really enjoy ouzo, you need a view of the sea or at least a wonderful green garden, someplace open, to gather with friends, chat and serve meze.
Here in Greece, ouzo is always traditionally served with some food. The food is usually meze. Meze (plural mezedes) are small plates of appetizers, shared among the people around the table. And this octopus recipe is a prefect meze for ouzo.
Picking up some peppers straight from the plants. On the right, a zucchini turned to squash. No harm done, we used it for a savory pie!
To cook octopus, you have to clean the inside of the sack. If you buy fresh octopus, ask your fishmonger to clean the octopus’ sack for you. If you buy frozen you don’t need to do that as it’s already cleaned up. By the way, octopus is one of those ingredients where frozen is better. Why is that? Because freezing the octopus actually makes it tender!
But even so, an octopus needs to be cooked for a long time in a pot, to become soft and tender enough. You always need more than an hour of braising/boiling. In this recipe, it will take about an hour and a half.
Another factor that makes some people thinking twice before buying octopus is its preparation. They don’t know how to cut this thing!
Defrosted in the shade, the octopus before we start cooking it.
Well, we are here to help! In this recipe, we posted many photos showing in detail how to prepare an octopus. It’s really easy. You discard a few parts and cut the rest in chunks. If you’ve never done this before, follow our instructions and you’ll definitely succeed. Feel free to send us an email if you need any clarification and we’ll gladly get back to you.
What are the ingredients used in this recipe? Well, ouzo and fennel are two main ingredients. Ouzo, like mentioned in this post for shrimps with ouzo is anise flavored and fennel is very similar to anise. So it’s a perfect combo! The fennel bulb used in this recipe also provides extra texture and is suitable for the long cooking process needed for the octopus. The other key ingredient is the Kalamata olives. We use whole organic olives and pit them ourselves. This way, they smell and taste better in comparison to the pitted olives sold in jars (usually in brine).
The fennel bulb was more tender than expected!
A little red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard along with some bay leaves, garlic and onion complement the dish and enhance the flavors. Feel free to add more or less of those, once you cook the dish, according to your preferences.
You can serve this delicious dish with some fresh crusty bread and ouzo, as an appetizer. Serve the ouzo in short old-fashioned glasses, over ice and add some water as well. Smell it first, to enjoy the aroma and drink a small sip. Then grab a bite of the octopus dish. Heaven!
You can also serve this with some French fries or short-cut pasta like macaroni or ditalini as a main dish. It’s up to you.
We hope that all of you took some time off work this summer to relax and enjoy some quality time with your loved ones!
Kali Oreksi and have a beautiful Winter Season (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) and a lovely spring to the lucky guys in the Southern Hemisphere!
- 1-1.5kg / 2-3.5lb octopus*
- 250-280gr / 9-10oz onions (2 medium sized), in large slices or diced
- 125ml (1/2 cup) ouzo**
- 125ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
- 200gr / 7oz fennel bulb (1 medium sized), in thin slices
- 60gr/2oz whole Kalamata olives (about 15 olives)***
- 3 garlic cloves, in thin slices or minced
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon strong mustard
- 0.5lt (2 cups) warm water
* if using fresh octopus, ask you fishmonger to clean the octopus for you.
If you using frozen, it’s clean already.
** if you can't find ouzo, you can try sambuca or vodka. The taste is a bit different, so try to find the real thing online;)
*** if using pitted, sliced olives, then you need 50gr/1.7oz
If using whole olives, then slice them with a paring knife and remove the pit. Don't chop the slices in small bits. You need large olive chunks for this recipe.
Let's see how to prepare the octopus now.
Put the octopus on your cutting board, with the sack on one side and the tentacles on the other (pic.1). Cut the sack (pic.2) and keep it aside. Make the slice at the bottom of the sack, right above the eyes (the eyes are at the middle section of the octopus).
Grab and hold the tentacles section and slice the middle section of the octopus off (pic. 3). This is the small section with the eyes. Discard it.
Remove the beak from the hole (pic. 4) between the tentacles. Discard it.
The hole must be free (pic. 5). Slice the sack in the middle (pic. 6). We always add the sack in the food, it's clean, delicious and there's no reason to discard it.
When you slice the sack open, you may notice some membranes/parts on the inside (pic. 7). Slice those off and discard.
The next step is optional. Some people (us included) like to remove the membrane on the outer part of the sack. It's very easy, simply grab a sack piece with one hand and pull the membrane with the other (pic. 8). Do that for both the sack pieces you sliced before. If you find this part a bit tricky, you can also leave the outer membrane on the sack. It won't matter that much.
Then slice the tentacles section in half (pic.9) and then cut the tentacles apart.
Finally, make cuts 3-4cm/1inch apart the length of each tentacle (pic.10). Keep the thinner end point of each tentacle in a larger piece preferably (2 inches long).
We know it sounds and looks a bit intimidating. But it's actually VERY easy. Trust us on this! Once you try to cut an octopus, you will succeed, and you will do it again and again with confidence.
Cooking the octopus
Add the octopus pieces in a large pot and place over medium-high heat (pic.11).
In about 3 minutes, the octopus will start releasing its juices. Stir often at first, until the juices start to add up (pic.12).
Reduce the heat medium-low (slow simmer) and let it cook for 40-45 minutes. Stir often towards the end of this period, when the juices evaporate (pic. 13). Don't be alarmed if some pieces left traces at the bottom of the pot. We will deglaze these. Add the olive oil (pic. 14) and stir to coat.
Increase the heat to medium and add the fennel and the onions (pic. 15). Cook for a few minutes until the onions and the fennel start to soften.
Add the ouzo (pic. 16) and using a wooden spatula scrape off any traces left on the bottom of the pot (deglaze).
Add the bay leaves (pic. 17) and the water (pic. 18). You can also use the water to deglaze any traces on the bottom of the pot.
Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for another 35-40 minutes. As before, towards the end of this period, when the water is less, stir very often.
When the water has almost completely evaporated, remove from heat, add the vinegar (pic. 19), the olives (pic. 20) and the mustard (pic. 21).
Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. Grind some fresh pepper and serve!
1. This is a perfect meze for ouzo!
2. Do not add any salt in this recipe, the juices from the octopus are salty enough.
3. You can also serve this dish with some fresh finally chopped fennel fronds.
4. You can use a non-stick pot for better results. Always stir with a wooden spatula to avoid scratching the pot.