Last week I was back in Portugal, visiting Lisbon and going for surf in Ericeira. I love the Portuguese cuisine in particular, the mediterranean in general actually. When I go to Portugal, there are two things I must eat. Must is strong, but I mean it, I ain’t going nowhere without having tasted fresh polvo and pasteis de nata.
Last year, we were surfing close to Sintra. One of the beaches there, Praia Grande, holds a real gem when you go for it until the end. Quite literally, actually. You have to pass by a very fancy restaurant (don’t go there, it’s good but not the best, bit stiff and posh, price/quality-wise you can do better) and a strip of local, shabby restaurants or small eateries which seem to be the only option you have left once you’ve passed the posh restaurant. Well, it’s not, keep walking (or driving for that matter because there is enough parking space) until the end of the strip, until you end up at the cliffs. There you will find a bungalow-type of restaurant with a nice terrace and a wonderful view: Bar do fundo. Reservations are almost always necessary, unless you’re with two and you’re lucky, but even then… Better be safe than sorry.
Even though they have a wide array of dishes I really like, such as the seafood risotto, the grilled sardines or the black shrimp pasta, there is one dish which stands out: grilled octopus (polvo) with potatoes and garlic. Probably because it is a dish you only eat fresh from the sea in mediterranean countries, an inconceivable tender delight it is. Never have I come across fresh octopus in Belgium. Usually, it’s frozen or pre-cooked or both. Conclusion is, even after trial and error (see recipe below), is nothing but a spectre of the real deal.
During my stay in Portugal just last week, I hang out with the surf teachers who more often than not are the sons of fishermen. They grew up with the sea and its treasures, and shared with me the secrets of polvo hunting, which I might share with you if you ask nicely! What I can share is their laughter at their first hunting trips, caught and lost octopi, the sound of the animal’s suction cups coming off their skin when one held on to their arm, etcetera. Stories about 82 year-olds still walking to the sea twice a day to catch octopuses for their working sons, since ‘they have to eat’. Well… The least pleasant way to kill an octopus is, according to me at least, biting out the brain between the eyes.
They are also very economical, since they eat most of the animal. It’s a shame we only have tentacles. So, the recipe of my near-polvo experience:
Ingredients (for 2):
- 2 packs of pre-cooked tentacles (I found mine in the Delhaize, you can always order at the fishmonger but this needs to be done in advance, I asked)
- Spaghetti (200-300 gr)
- Salt & Pepper
- A bit of fish broth (300 ml)
- 1 herbal bouquet
- Take the octopus tentacles out of the fridge at least an hour before cooking. That way it gives off all of its juices.
- Put to a boil the fish broth, the juice the octopus gave off, and the herbal bouquet. Once boiling, turn the heat down to the lowest degree and put the tentacles in the broth.
- Let stand for 10-15 minutes.
- Put on the water for the pasta and cook the pasta.
- Take the tentacles out of the broth and put them aside.
- Cut and peel onion and garlic. Cut into small pieces, cook in a pan with olive oil until tender.
- Heat a pan to scorching hot level, put in a bit of olive oil and toss in the tentacles. Cook for about two, three minutes and then add in the garlic, onion and cooked spaghetti. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Top off with fresh parsley.
With the means we have, this is still a very tasty dish. You just have try and not compare with the polvo in mediterranean countries, it’s beyond compare.
PS. If you ever go to Bar do Fundo, do try the homemade chocolate cake and the almond tart ice cream. Preferably together, you’re not going to regret it. Promise!