insalata di polipo – octopus salad

oct salad big

Before coming to Italy I’d only ever eaten octopus once, in Rhodes. I can still visualize the plate in front of me to this day. It is a source of constant amazement, not to mention concern, to my wife that I can recall not only dishes, but entire meals I ate years ago. Anyway, in this case I feel justified, since the Rhodian octopus was one of those defining moments in my love story with seafood, like the first time I tried oysters, or tuna tartare. The unforgettable molluscs in question were smallish, and had been char-grilled until the tips of their tentacles had become slightly crunchy. And although this is still one of my favourite ways to eat it, in Sicily octopus usually means octopus salad, so that’s what we’ll be having today.


This is quick and easy, well quick and easy if you can get hold of octopus, of course. I imagine that may be hard if you don’t live in the Mediterranean. But then again, maybe not; I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea about global octopus availability. Anyway, I hope you find some, because octopus is seafood at its best – fresh-tasting, with a touch of salinity and that seductive hint of sweetness typical of molluscs and crustaceans.


By the way, if you’re looking for something to drink with this… octopus’s sweet, delicate flavour cries out for a glass of aromatic, floral Sicilian Grillo, which often has a tropical fruit edge. If you can’t get hold of any, or want a more generic suggestion, something light and fruity. The wine-and-food pairing websites will probably tell you “a dry white”. But don’t listen to them (I bet half of them have never even seen a fresh octopus); trust me on this one, and go for fruit.

Serves 4 as a starter

  • 1 octopus, cleaned, about 600g
  • 1 lemon
  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil

1. Wash the octopus. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and slide in the octopus, whole.

2. Bring back to the boil, and cook the octopus for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the octopus to cool in the cooking water.

3. Separate the head from the tentacles, discarding the beak and eye section, and cut the octopus up into 1-2 cm chunks.

4. Season with salt, plenty of fresh-ground black pepper, lemon juice to taste, olive oil and chopped parsley.

5. This is best served at room temperature.

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