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Octopus: flavors of the sea

This large cephalopod, which transmits the flavors of the sea, has the gastronomic appeal of a very fine steak, although it must be pounded for some time and than blanched to be served as octopus vinaigrette and also a feira, i.e. with salt, paprika and olive oil, as it has historically been served at Galician fairs.

These may be the two most popular recipes, although it's also used in stew, poached or simply cooked with small potatoes or cachelos (Galician potatoes). It's also generally available in cans in multiple formats, but always cut up in pieces: Galician-style, in a stew, with tomato, with garlic, etc. You can even buy an entire octopus in a can.

In Spanish waters, the octopus can reach up to 80 cm in length (they also grow to enormous sizes, but their gastronomic quality declines compared with those available elsewhere) and has a head with a hard beak and eight tentacles of equal length, each of which has two suction cups, which is where the name polypus, meaning having many feet, comes from.

Octopus is fished very easily, including by hand. The most common method is to use a line baited with live crab, which is a real treat for the octopus when it "goes fishing".

In the words of Álvaro Cunqueiro, Galicia is famous for being "the octopus capital of Europe", since the story goes that Galicians have been eating it in large quantities and in certain formats since the Middle Ages. It's also available in the region of Cantabria, and in particular in the city itself, where fried octopus tentacles is a popular dish. It's quite popular in bars in Gipuzkoa, in Getaria, Zumaia and Zarautz.

Every part of the octopus can be eaten. As the famous food writer Jorge Víctor Sueiro wrote, “non tén osos, nin espiñas, nin cascas, nin tonas, nin carabuñas, ... todo é carne, ¡y qué carne!” (in Galician; a rough translation would be "they have no bones, no spine, no shell, no crust, no seeds... it's all meat, oh what meat!").

For this reason, the octopus in Galicia is a totemic object and is the star of many fiestas and religious festivities throughout the region, where it is generally accompanied by large quantities of Albariño and Ribeiro wine. A celebration worth highlighting is the one in O Carballiño, in Ourense, in mid-August.

Pulpo a fiera is available in many specialized locales throughout Spain, in restaurants and also bars, but it's not as easy as it sounds to cook the octopus (after being pounded, they are added to the pot whole) and, in particular, to find the right level of "doneness". It is very tough and must be soaked for at least two hours. The next step is to clean it.

The octopus is dunked three times in boiling water and then cooked without salt. Wood from oak (or carballo, in Portuguese) trees and a copper pot should ideally be used to cook the octopus. It is then cut into pieces using scissors, the traditional method used by pulpérias (places specializing in octopus) since long ago. This classic Galician recipe combines sophisticated cooking and a bit of intuition.

ADDRESSES

A PULPEIRA DE MELIDE. Plaza de España 16. Tel. 981 152 197. A Coruña

PULPERIA PICHI. Rúa Platería 40. Tel. 986 730 021. O Grove. Pontevedra

CASA FIDEL O PULPEIRO. San Nicolás 7. Tel. 986 851 234. Pontevedra

YAYO DAPORTA. Hospital, 7. Tel. 986 526 062. Cambados. Pontevedra

VILLA DE FOZ. Gonzalo Córdoba, 10. Tel.915 938 871. Madrid

MESON O PULPO. Cañizares, 12. Tel. 913 690 246. Madrid

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11/12/2014