Saturday, 1 February 2014

Do You Sea Red?

Pulpo al Vino Rosso & Pomodoro
Octopus in Red Wine & Tomato Sauce

Octopus is one of my favorite sea creatures- both out in the real world, swimming in the sea, but also in my plate! I am not much of a fish eater, but I do like pulpo very much- in almost every variation other than fried. Oh come on- you are not surprised to hear that coming from me, are you?!! Haha! No, I didn't think you would be!

Because there are so many other ways to prepare food and especially pulpo, that are much more interesting... to put it mildly. So, yes, you would be right to expect me to boil, steam or grill octopus... but what about cooking it in red wine? I bet you didn't think I would be cooking octopus in red wine, did you? No? Good- neither did I until today!

Octopus is one of those ingredients, that has such a mild flavor of its own, that it is really versatile in its uses and combinations with other ingredients. It works well with herbs and spices, I have enjoyed many Asian dishes with octopus as well of course as Italian or French... but although there must be many, many recipes around, where is is cooked in red wine... but none that I had ever tried.

So, this evening, armed with a small octopus and a few more ingredients, I set out to create something (hopefully) exciting and new! The other ingredients were; 1 quarter of a small fennel bulb (save the greens to garnish, later), a little ginger, a Spring onion, fresh thyme, a couple of bay leaves, a little lemon zest, a few cherry tomatoes, a little tomato past and of course some red wine!

After cleaning the octopus and cutting it into bite-sized pieces, I warmed up 1 glass of red wine - in this case, a Sicilian Nero d'Avola, along with 1 glass of water, until it was just beginning to bubble. 

I added all of the other ingredients, except for 2-3 cherry tomatoes that I would be adding later- so that was, for a single serving, 1 small octopus, 1 Spring onion cut into little pieces, 5-6 slices of fresh ginger, 4-5 sprigs of thyme, 2 leaves of bay, 3-4 slices of lemon zest and a quarter of a small bulb of fennel cut into bite-sized pieces and the first couple of cherry tomatoes, cut in half.

As soon as the water and wine came up to a slow, simmering boil, I seasoned it with salt, pepper and a little smoked paprika and a pinch of cayenne, turned down the heat a little, popped on the lid and then kissed it goodbye for the next 20 minutes or so. Ok- I checked in on it every now and then and gave it a little stir, but basically, I just let it do it's thing.

After 20 minutes, I added a tablespoon of tomato paste and stirred it in... checked the broth for seasoning, decided I was liking where the flavor of the sauce was going and replaced the lid to let it simmer on for a further 10-15 minutes.

10-15 minutes later, the octopus was tender and delicious, and the wine and tomato broth was delicious with all of the flavor of the herbs, ginger and spices... but of course a little too liquid to be considered a sauce and a little too sour to leave as it was. Hmmm- what to do?

Obviously, the sauce needed thickening, but it also needed something to take away the tangy "edge" of the wine and lemon. A little added sweetness would come from the couple of cherry tomatoes that I had kept to one side, to add at the end- mostly for the sake of appearances and to add some nice, bright red color to the somewhat murky red of the wine- but it needed a little more. A pinch of sugar or a drizzle of honey would have done it, but instead of doing that and thickening the sauce with a little corn-starch for example- I decided to use a little carob flour instead... genius!

I stirred a teaspoon of the carob flour together with a little water and added it, along with the tomatoes, to the broth, stirring it in quickly to avoid it beginning to settle unevenly, but then just letting it sit and simmer for a couple of minutes to work its magic. The great thing about it is that it does not need to boil away for ages like flour or starch do until the "floury" aspect of its flavor disappears, it is good and ready to go as soon as the consistency of the sauce is good.

So that left me ready to serve! By now the sauce was rich, thick and glossy- it needed no extra butter or oil to enhance it and with the addition of the carob flour had become well-rounded and delicious. 

I garnished it with a sprinkle of thyme, a little scatter of fennel greens and a some blanched and sliced lemon zest- to add that little fresh touch as well as a blast of color to the admittedly, rather brownish sauce. Do I need to add that it was a wonderful little dish? I don't think so. May I presume that you may try this out yourselves some time? I surely hope so! And when you do... remember to enjoy!

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