Octopus Stifado - Clean Monday

I spent some of my childhood and most of my teenage years growing up on the beautiful island of Cyprus. Island life is very different from a city life, each gives you something the other never could.

I loved my time in Cyprus and I would have been there in a heartbeat if things had worked out differently for me since moving back to London. There’s a lot to be said for living by the sea on a small island.

The Greeks are religious people and Easter is a far bigger deal than Christmas. The reason for this post is because on the 15th March marks the first day of Lent known as Clean Monday or ‘Kathari Deftera’ which is 50 days prior to Easter Sunday for the Greek Orthodox community and this is celebrated with probably one of the most important feasts of the year.

On Clean Monday, people in Cyprus would traditionally head out to the fields for picnics with family and friends to drink, sing and most importantly eat. As this was the beginning of Lent and the start of a 50 day fasting period, the culinary delights would largely be based around seafood, cuttlefish, octopus, mainly mollusks, dips, bread, olives and beans. Basically meat, eggs and dairy products are forbidden until Easter Sunday ....this is when North London smells like one big bbq, when Lamb rotates on a large spit in preparation for Greeks to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and most importantly for us to stuff our faces!

This is a great recipe to try out and if you ever need an excuse to make something maybe consider this for Clean Monday to keep up a wonderful tradition! I will, it’s too yummy not to!



Ingredients


1.5kg Frozen Octopus

1 Lemon Juice

1 Tinned Tomatoes

1 Heaped Tbsp Passata

2 Packets of Shallots

1/4 Cup Olive Oil

2 Tbsp Vinegar

1/2 Coffee Cup Red Wine

1 Cinnamon Stick

1 Bay Leaf

2 Cloves

5 Pepper Corns

Salt

Pepper


Method

Defrost the octopus from the night before.


The octopus head should be an empty sack. Wash the octopus well. Turn the octopus upside down and you will notice a black spot, this is its mouth and will need to be squeezed out. With a sharp knife, cut out its eye before cooking. Make sure you insert your knife deep under the eye socket as doing this too close to can cause a cut in the eye making this a very messy process! This is probably the toughest part.

Once again wash the octopus well, place into a large saucepan. Place onto the hob adding a cup of water and lemon juice, closing the lid. Leave to boil, checking every 10 minutes so that it does not stick to the base and the water does not run out. The octopus will release it own juices and reduce in size. Leave to boil for approximately 30 minutes. Pierce the octopus with a fork to check it is soft. If not soft, turn heat low to a simmer and continue checking until soft. Once soft, remove from heat.


While the octopus is boiling, take 4 tomatoes from the tin and grate them. Set them aside together with all the tomato juice in the can. You will not be using the remaining tomatoes.


In a separate saucepan begin to fry the whole shallots until golden and soft.

Place the octopus in with the onions and stir in the wine and vinegar.

Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cloves, pepper corns, tomatoes, passata and season with salt and pepper.

Turn to a low heat and leave to cook for a further 45 minutes.


The octopus can be served both hot or cold with a side of plain basmati rice or crusty warm bread.



Tips

Great as a starter dish with some warm crusty bread or accompanied along side something else. Octopus is expensive to purchase therefore as a main meal for a family may not be practical.


Octopus is usually bought frozen and that’s the way to buy it. Frozen helps break down the muscle fibres assisting with the softness during the cooking process.


I have previously pierced the eye trying to remove it ....it’s not good! Another method is to boil the octopus and then remove the eye as it becomes softer and easier to do. This is up to you and whatever makes you more comfortable. I would advise to battle through this as this dish is delicious and definitely worth it!


Cost

Cost under £25 for 4 persons.

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