I love octopus, although the small ones (about 5cm long, and usually called baby octopus) aren’t easy to find in Hong Kong (hint: look for them in shops specialising in frozen meats and seafood).
For these recipes, don’t attempt to substitute larger octopuses, which are tougher; if you can’t find the babies, use small squid instead.
KOREAN-STYLE SPICY BABY OCTOPUS WITH GOCHUJANG AND VEGETABLES
Somyeon are Korean thin wheat flour noodles; you can substitute with somen.
500 grams baby octopus
1 carrot, about 200 grams
1 onion, about 250 grams
1 Korean zucchini
25 grams gochujang (Korean chilli paste)
1 tsp gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes)
15ml soy sauce
10 grams sugar
2 cloves garlic
2-3 slices ginger
5ml sesame oil
2-3 spring onions
Cooking oil, as needed
Fine sea salt
150 grams somyeon
Clean the octopuses by pulling the body/head away from the tentacles. Remove and discard the guts, and trim off the eyes and beak. Put the octopus in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt. Massage with your hands – the octopus will exude a foamy liquid. Rinse thoroughly in a colander and drain. Repeat the process again, making sure to rinse it well, to wash away the excess salt. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the octopus and blanch for 30 seconds, then drain. Bring a clean pot of water to the boil, add the somyeon and simmer until done, then drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.
Cut the carrot in half lengthwise and slice it very thinly. Cut the onion in half, then slice about 5mm wide, then do the same with the Korean zucchini. Mince the garlic, then peel and finely mince the ginger. Mix the gochujang with the gochugaru, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and sesame oil.
Heat about 10ml of cooking oil in a wok or skillet. Add the vegetables and stir-fry until the onions are wilted. Add the gochujang/gochugaru mixture and simmer, stirring often, until the vegetables are about half cooked; if the ingredients stick to the pan, stir in a little water. Stir in the octopus and simmer for about three minutes, or until cooked. Stir often and add water, if needed; the sauce should lightly coat the ingredients. Taste for seasonings and correct if necessary. Cut the spring onions into 5mm-wide pieces and stir into the octopus and other ingredients before ladling the mixture into a serving bowl.
Lay the sesame leaves on a plate, top with the somyeon and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let the diners mix the somyeon with the octopus and vegetables before eating.
BABY OCTOPUS A LA PLANCHA
In Spain, I tasted very tiny octopuses – about 2cm long – that were cooked and consumed in their entirety; they were so young and tender even the beak was edible (it gave a gentle crunch). Larger octopuses need to be gutted and cleaned, but cooking them as they did – a la plancha – is an easy technique that chars the seafood and seems to intensify the flavour. If you don’t have a flat-top grill (often called a griddle), use a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast iron. You’ll have to cook the octopuses in batches, or use two pans.
500 grams baby octopus
80ml olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
¾ tsp paprika
¼ tsp piment d’Espelette or another type of chilli powder
10 grams parsley, chopped
The finely grated zest of one lemon
30ml fresh lemon juice
Fine sea salt and rough-flaked sea salt (such as Maldon)
Cooking oil, as needed
About 30ml extra-virgin olive oil
Clean the octopuses as in the first recipe, then rub with salt, rinse and repeat. Rinse thoroughly, but do not blanch. Drain well then pat the octopus dry with paper towels.
Put the octopus in a large bowl and add the olive oil, garlic, paprika, chilli powder, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice and one teaspoon of fine sea salt. Mix well, then leave to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Drain the octopus mixture in a colander set over a bowl. Heat a flat-top grill until very hot, or place a skillet over the largest burner using a high flame. Very lightly brush the cooking surface with cooking oil and as soon as it starts to smoke, add the octopus in one layer (if you’re using a skillet, cook the ingredients in batches; do not crowd the pan). The mixture will sizzle furiously and give off a lot of steam and smoke. Cook until the octopus start to char, then turn them over and cook the other side. They should take only about three minutes to cook; lower the heat, if needed. Place the cooked octopus on a serving platter. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle lightly with rough-flaked sea salt, then serve with lemon wedges.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
For more recipes, go to scmp.com/topics/recipes