29 January 2007

Three Courses from Cocina Nueva (Part 1) - The Palate Teaser

Due to some bad organisation, I managed to put myself in a position where I had to cook for two whole days in a row. The morning after a multi-course, multi-dish, multi-hands dinner for seven, I was to get up to wash the leftover dishes, napkins, tablemats, wine glasses and still decide what to cook for a lunch with Val and Addy+Derrick, and then prepare dinner for my family. 9am came and went, and I was still stuck in lala-land where dishwashers surrounded me, automatic chicken wing deboners existed and I had my very own Kitchen-Aid Electric Mixer (I'm still saving, slowly but surely).

I did however manage to drag myself away from my dream and quickly give the home a wipe-up by 1015. However, I was still looking through the cookbooks for an idea of what to make. Obviously I was finding for those fuss-free ones with few ingredients and even fewer steps. I decided to use recipes from Cocina Nueva: The New Spanish Kitchen by Jane Lawson, and try my hand at something new - Spanish food. The vibe I got from the cookbook was something laid-back, fun, yet gorgeous and extremely satisfying for the tummy and especially the palate. And the food photography is something that makes me aspire to greater heights, that is if write ups like this isn't inspiring (or embarassing) enough.

So by 1130am, I reached home with my groceries and set to work. I had planned a small appetiser, a simple DIY/watch-while-I-cook main-course, followed by a slice of cake. By the time I had prepped the ingredients for the main-course and put the cake into the oven, my first guests had arrived and the appetiser was shelved. But a main-course and a dessert for four, in under 1.5 hours was still no mean feat. I did however, get down to making the shelved appetiser at night for my family. No point letting some defrosted tentacled friends go to waste, right?

One of the first dishes that caught my eye in that book was for Galician Octopus. It promised tender baby octopi simmered for at least half an hour then flavoured with a tangy and smoky olive oil dressing. What's not to love? I truly adore (eating) our tentacled friends, but have always hated it when not done right and turn into ridiculously chewy and indigestible monsters. I have been advised by friends, cookbooks and the 'fishmonger' behind the counter at Greenwood Fish Market and Bistro, to cook the baby octopi either very quickly or for a very long time. True enough, these beautiful purple babies softened after half an hour of simmering.
As the baby octopi that I bought came cleaned and gutted, that cut the preparation time in half. Other than leaving the octopi to simmer for half an hour or more, the dressing took just a few scoops, pinches and bashes (of garlic) to put together.
-Though I tripled the amount of baby octopi in the recipe, I only doubled the amount of olive oil used since a little actually goes quite a long way.
-I also substituted some of the lemon juice and zest with mandarin orange juice and zest, and that mellowed the dressing a little.
-The local supermarket stocked none of that Italian parsley, so a handful of cilantro did the job for me. Just as well since I really prefer cilantro.

My parents were quite taken aback by how deceptively tasty the dish was and how tender the octopi were. I guess they've had their fair share of horrible experiences with rubbery octopi. I simply love the dressing as well and can imagine it being used with salad or to drizzle over pan-fried salmon. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge and added cold (together with the leftover sauce) to a leafy green salad as a refreshing wake-me-up dish. They are still tender but has more of a spring and a bite to it. Still, no ridiculous amount of chewing will be needed, really.

Coming up next: What I served at lunch...

Galician Octopus
Serves 4-6

500g baby octopus or 350g cleaned baby octopus
2 tbspn sherry vinegar
80ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp smoked sweet paprika
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp grated lemon zest (I substituted half with mandarin orange zest)
1 tbspn lemon juice (I substituted half with mandarin orange juice)
3 tbspns sherry vinegar
1/2 red (or white) onion, cut into thin wedges (these were quickly blanched in with the octopi for a while just before serving)
1 large handful flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, roughly chopped

Put baby octopi in a saucepan of cold water with sherry vinegar and bring to boil.
Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 mins or under octopi are very tender.
Drain well.

Mix the oil, paprika, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and extra sherry vinegar then toss through the warm octopi along with the onion.
Leave to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Toss through the parsley, season to taste and serve.


Samantha said...

Hi! Love your photos - I was just wondering if you could tell me, where did you get that lovely plate? It's beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Hi Samantha, I got them all from Sia Huat, a kitchen-supplies shop in Chinatown, 2-4 Temple Street. :) I always lose myself when I go there and manage to stay there for a few hours each time. I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

val said...

I didn't know the plural of octopus was octopi. haha

Anonymous said...

Haha, it's actually quite a debated topic. There's also a lesser known alternative of 'Octopodes'. But that made it sound a little too medical for me, so Octopi it is! Octopuses is the most common actually, but octopi appeals to me more. Oh the inane things I get up to! Haha. Hey, remember to let me know what time your flight is on Monday okay? *hugs*

Samantha said...

Thanks for letting me know! Do you happen to remember how much they might've been? I'm Singaporean, but currently working in NY - I saw similar plates here, but they were US$95 each, definitely beyond my budget.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sam, you can rest assured that the prices here are less than 1/20 of the price there. :) The might be inferior in quality though, you should come back and check it out.

Samantha said...

Good to know! I'll definitely add these to my shopping list when I next come back :) Thanks again!