An encounter with a truly exciting dish is few and far between. Occasionally, though, there are those special moments when it is clear when something exceptional has been displayed before you. Indeed, Octopus Salami is one of these dishes. The thin slices of tender octopus meat paired with peppery arugula, shaved fennel, and tart segments of blood orange, drizzled with nutty olive oil and finished with black lava salt, make for an incredible combination of diverse textures, vibrant colors, and layered flavors. Complex, yet simple all at once, this is an Italian dish par excellence–insurmountable in flavor and subtitles, and when served, looks as stunning as it is delicious.
It took me several tries to master this dish, but the effort was well worth it. I looked at countless recipes, including Chef Cesare Casella’s, and I used various components from each of them when deciding how to finalize the preparation. Through trial and error, I implemented several modifications and added my personal touch, which I truthfully believe resulted in a fantastic dish.
For this recipe, you will need one 2 ½ pound octopus. Ask the fishmonger to clean out the octopus and remove its eyes. On Upper West Side, the best octopus and the freshest seafood can be found at Citarella on Broadway & West 75th Street.
Wash the octopus thoroughly under streaming cold water, holding it with the tentacles down. Carefully work through the tentacles and skin to wash out all of the sand.
Prepare all of the vegetables and herbs in advance, put them into a large pot, pour in enough water to cover the octopus completely, and bring to a boil.
Place two pots side by side on the cook top, one with just plain boiling water, the other with all of the vegetables, herbs, salt, and vinegar you’ll need to flavor and cook the octopus. Make sure that the pot with vegetables is large enough to completely submerge the octopus when cooking; I used a 12-quart stock pot.
Grab the octopus carefully by its head with tongs and slowly dunk it into the pot containing only the plain boiling water. Do this 7 times in a row. This process will clear out the sand from the tentacles and also cause them to curl up into loop-like spirals.
KITCHEN TIP: Dunking the octopus into the boiling water will also help retain its purple skin. It won’t shed off while cooking and will also enhance the appearance of the dish when the octopus salami is sliced.
Next, submerge the octopus into the pot of boiling water containing the herbs and vinegar, bring it to a boil again (the temperature usually drops right after you put the octopus in), and reduce the heat to a simmer. Make sure to not let your water boil, just simmer. After 50 minutes, pierce the octopus with a paring knife or slice off a sliver from one of the tentacles and try it to determine if it is sufficiently cooked. The flesh should taste soft and may taste a bit salty at first, but don’t panic, that’s exactly how it should be.
While the octopus is cooking, you’ll have to get into arts and crafts section of this recipe. It’s actually fun to make; you need a plastic bottle, a small paring knife, and scissors. Using a knife and scissors, cut off the upper third of the plastic bottle and make 6 small holes on its bottom. Put it aside.
When the octopus is ready, carefully lift it from the pot using a large slotted spoon or a spider and transfer it to a cutting board or a plate to cool down slightly.
When the octopus is cool enough to handle, cut it in half and then cut each half into diagonal slices, in order to preserve the curl of the tentacle.
Take a small bowl, and place the cut-out plastic bottle inside, so that the liquid from the octopus will drain through the holes into the bowl.
Place the sliced pieces of tentacles along the inner walls of the plastic bottle with the suction cups facing out, and carefully arrange the sliced head pieces along the center of the bottle.
When the process is complete, compress the octopus with weight. I typically use a glass bottle filled with water as a press, and I place it right on top of the octopus in the plastic bottle (make sure you clean the glass bottle with soap and water and pat it dry thoroughly before pressing it on top of the octopus). Push the bottle down several times to compress the octopus until the mass is fairly solid (refer to the picture above).
Put everything in the fridge for at least 6 hours, preferably in the bottom shelf and if possible, use the shelf above to press down on the glass bottle to further increase the pressure on the octopus. Another option is to cut the edges of the plastic bottle vertically down to the level of the octopus meat. Fold the cut edges on top of the octopus, wrap in a plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge with a weight on top to compress the octopus. Again, refrigerate the octopus for at least 6 hours or overnight.
The final product should be a cylindrically-shaped mass of octopus meat that looks like thick salami. It’s important to create as much pressure on top of the octopus as possible; its own juices will act as gelatin and will hold the shape of the salami tightly together. This recipe can be made 1-2 days in advance.
Once the octopus has been refrigerated for at least 6 hours, remove it from the fridge, place the salami shaped octopus on a cutting board and slice it thinly using a very sharp knife.
To serve, place the Octopus Salami along the rim of the plate and garnish it with a simple salad: fresh arugula, shaved fennel, and segmented blood orange. Drizzle with a good quality olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and sprinkle with black lava or fleur de sel salt.
Voila! Your Octopus Salami is ready to be served!
KITCHEN TIP: slice the octopus only when it’s ready to be served. Slicing it too early will make the salami lose its circular shape!
Soppressata di polpo: octopus salami with arugula salad, shaved fennel & blood orange
- One 2 ½-3 pound octopus
- 1 cup red wine vinegar (12-quart stock pot)
- 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 2 red onions, quartered
- 10 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2 springs of fresh rosemary
- 2 springs of fresh thyme
- 1 spring fresh sage
- 5 springs of fresh parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- ¼ cup of salt
For Arugula Salad with Shaved Fennel, Blood Orange
- 1 cup arugula
- ½ fennel, thinly sliced
- 1 blood orange, segmented, juices reserved
- 1 teaspoon Champagne vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fleur de Sel
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Wash the octopus thoroughly under the cold running water. Carefully work through its tentacles to wash off the sand.
- Using a 12-quart stock pot, put in roughly chopped celery, carrot, onion, smashed garlic cloves, herbs, bay leaves, ½ cup vinegar, ¼ cup of salt (the water should taste like sea, salty) and peppercorns. Fill the pot with enough water to cover the octopus completely and bring to a boil.
- Place a second small pot with just plain water next to the 12-quart pot and bring to a boil. Holding the octopus with tongs dunk it slowly for a few seconds 7 times in a row into a small pot with plain boiling water until its tentacles have curled up.
- Transfer the octopus into the 12-quart pot, bring it to boil again then lower the temperature and simmer for 50-60 min. Make sure that the octopus is completely covered by water. Do not let it boil.
- Meanwhile, using a small paring knife and scissors cut off the upper third of an empty 1 liter clear plastic bottle and make 6 small holes on its bottom. Put it aside.
- Using a slotted spoon or a spider transfer the octopus to the cutting board. Let it cool slightly.
- When the octopus is cool enough to handle cut off the head and slice it in half. Cut the body in half and slice off each tentacle.
- Take a small bowl or dish and place the cut out plastic bottle in it so that the excess liquid could drain through the holes into the bowl.
- Place the tentacles along the inner walls of the plastic bottle with the suction cups facing out. Fill the center of the bottle with the remaining octopus and head pieces. When the process is complete use a glass bottle of water, press by placing it right on top of the octopus inside the plastic bottle (make sure you clean the glass bottle with soap and water and pat dry it thoroughly before pressing it on top of the octopus).
- The final assembly has to be placed in the fridge for at least 6 hours. Put it on the bottom shelf and if possible use the shelf above to press down on the glass bottle to further increase the pressure on the octopus. Another option is to cut the edges of the plastic bottle vessel vertically down to the level of the octopus meat. Fold the cut edges on top of the octopus, wrap it in a plastic wrap and put it in the fridge with a weight on top to compress the octopus.
- The final product should be a compressed into a cylindrical shaped mass of octopus meat that looks like thick salami. It’s important to create as much weight pressure on top of the octopus as possible; its own juices will act as gelatin and will help to hold the cylindrical shape. This recipe can be made 1-2 days in advance.
Arugula Salad with Shaved Fennel, Blood Orange
- Using a mandolin or a very sharp knife, thinly slice a fennel bulb, if not served immediately, place slices into the bowl of ice water to prevent it from discoloration and preserve its crispiness.
- Slice off the bottom and top of blood orange and using a paring knife carefully cut away rind in strips. Working over the bowl, slice into fruit along each membrane letting supremes fall into the bowl. Squeeze all the juices from the remaining membrane over the bowl.
- Drain fennel slices on the paper towel. When ready to serve, combine a cup of arugula with the blood orange segments and its juices, fennel slices, drizzle it all with good quality extra virgin olive oil, Champagne vinegar and some freshly ground black pepper to taste. Finish with Fleur de Sel.
- To serve Octopus Salami Slice the salami thinly, arrange it on the platter, drizzle with olive oil, liberally sprinkle the black lava salt or Fleur de Sel, freshly ground black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice. Top it off with arugula salad in the center of the platter and serve!