Whenever we’re in Chicago, we try to stop by Greektown for a meal. The prices are reasonable, there’s free valet parking, and one can choose from the numerous high quality restaurants lined up on Halstead Street. One of our favorite Greektown restaurants is Greek Islands because their grilled octopus is absolutely fabulous. Tender and chewy, crusty and smokey, the octopus is simply dressed in an oregano-vinegrette sauce. We can never get enough of this very popular appetizer.
Driving to Chicago just for a taste of grilled octopus seems silly, and since there are no comparable Greek restaurants in town, we had no choice but to try to recreate this dish at home. Fortunately, Am-Ko sells small frozen octopus in one and a half pound packages for a reasonable price (I’ve also seen large octopus at Schnucks, but the price was outrageous). If you’re going to make this dish, you do have to plan ahead a little since it takes 24 hours to defrost the octopus in your refrigerator, and at least 12 hours to marinate it.
The octopus is actually cooked twice. Boiling the octopus for 45 minutes makes it tender (surprisingly, you don’t need to add water because the octopus will secrete its own water). Marinating the octopus overnight makes it taste good. And grilling the octopus makes it crunchy on the outside. Since this is “grilled” octopus, an outdoor charcoal grill is essential. That smokey grilled flavor adds an extra dimension to this dish that can’t be replicated any other way. Since the octopus is already cooked when it’s marinating, one can be efficient and re-use the marinate as a dressing as well.
Cleaning the octopus is a chore, but with a little practice, one can clean a batch in under five minutes. Using a pair of scissors, I snip the head sack just enough to get to the innards. Usually one can rip the innards out with one pull (I do this all under running water). The mouth of the octopus (AKA “the beak”) also needs to be removed, but I find it easier to remove the beak after boiling. You’ll find the beak under the head and at the center where all the tentacles meet.
Grilled Greek Octopus
(Preparation time: 2 days; serves 3)
- 4½ lbs frozen octopus, defrosted and cleaned
- defrost octopus in refrigerator for 24 hours
- clean octopus under running water
- cook octopus in its own water for 45 minutes
- rinse under cold water to remove excess skin and “beak”
- marinate overnight in refrigerator (see recipe below)
- grill octopus over hot charcoal until brown, about 5 minutes each side
- chop grilled octopus into bite size pieces
- pour remaining marinate over octopus and serve immediately
Greek Octopus Marinate
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup onion, chopped
- 1 bulb garlic, minced
- 1 cup fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 tbs dried oregano)
- ½ teasp black pepper, freshly cracked
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tbs red wine vinegar
- salt to taste
- sautee onion in olive oil under transparent
- add garlic and oregano, sautee another 2 minutes
- remove from flame and stir in lemon juice, red wine vinegar, pepper and salt
- pour over octopus and marinate overnight