At Asador Etxebarri in Axpe, Spain, chef-owner Victor Arguinzoniz has perfected the art of grilling. He uses only wood in his cooking. If you do not want to go through the laborious and time-consuming process of burning oak wood or wood briquettes, you can use store-bought charcoal. The effect is not the same when you use charcoal briquettes, or a gas grill.
The technique in this recipe is to use small sprigs of rosemary to obtain a smoky flavor, and also to have the baby octopuses dance over the grill in a metal basket instead of simply placing them on the griddle. The same method can be used for other shellfish, such as shrimp. The best tool to use for this is a metal mesh basket with no plastic or rubber parts. Remember to wear grill mitts.
Arguinzoniz serves his baby octopus with a little octopus ink on the side. Baby octopus available in this area has often been frozen. We found it at BlackSalt fish market in the District (202-342-9101) and at Jessie Taylor Seafood on Maine Avenue SW (202-554-4173).
- 2 tablespoons neutrally flavored oil, such as rice bran oil
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 medium clove garlic
- Coarse or kosher salt
- 10 (usually no more than 1 pound total) baby octopuses, cleaned (ask the fishmonger to do this; see NOTE)
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon (optional; 3 to 4 tablespoons)
Prepare the grill for direct heat: Light the wood briquettes; when they are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for about 4 or 5 seconds. When all of the coals are covered with a thin white layer of ash, you can start grilling. First, remove the ash by blowing gently on the coals. Have a metal mesh basket (like one used to grill vegetables) large enough to hold all of the octopuses.
Combine the oil, thyme, garlic and salt to taste in a large bowl; reserve half of the mixture in a separate large bowl. Add the baby octopuses and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle them lightly with salt.
Lay the rosemary twigs across the grill grate. Place the octopuses in the metal basket, then set the basket on top of the twigs. There will be some flare-ups; that is okay. You can use the bottom of the basket to smother the twigs if they catch fire.
Toss the octopuses around. Don’t keep them directly over the flames for more than a couple of seconds at the time: What you want is smoke and radiated heat from the burning embers, not flames. The octopuses should cook for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on their size.
Toss with the reserved oil mixture in a clean bowl, sprinkle with a little salt and lemon juice, if using, and serve.
NOTE: Baby octopus usually comes cleaned. To do it yourself, rinse the octopuses, then remove the hard beak on the underside of each one, along with the connected stomach and ink sac, which might burst during the process.
Adapted by Gastronomer Andreas Viestad.
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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