Basque-style octopus

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For a nominally business newspaper, the Financial Times publishes some excellent food writing. A case in point was a piece on Barcelona’s Boqueria (markets) that I mentioned in a post almost exactly a year ago. More timely is a story last weekend on Galicia’s most famous delicacy: pulpo (octopus). Apparently, such is its importance to locals that octopus was used as currency in the 6th century and there’s even a word for an octopus cook: pulpeiras. While no longer legal tender (the decidedly less tasty Euro having taken over), octopus continues to be revered with a two week-long fiesta devoted to it every August, the Festa do Pulpo in Carballiño, culminating this year on the 14th with an entire day of gorging on pulpo!

Readers of this blog will already be familiar with pulpo de Gallega, which is essentially octopus and potatoes. A simpler version, which omits the potatoes, is pulpo á feira. But octopus worship in Spain is not restricted to Galicia, as I discovered when having dinner at Donostia, a Basque restaurant in London. (Donostia is Basque for San Sebastian.) On the menu was the tantalizing and cryptic “Octopus in Basque marinade” which, of course, I had to try. It was delicious. And simple, too. From what I could tell the dish involved finely diced red and green peppers, olive oil, pimenton and, curiously, chives. I found the latter interesting as it is not an ingredient I generally associate with Spanish cuisine. My theory is that it is the French influence. After all this region of Spain borders France (which has its own Basque community) and, indeed, the (present-day) border is within spitting distance of San Sebastian. Regardless of its origins this was a dish I had to try making at home and today’s recipe is my reverse-engineered attempt at it.


Basque-style octopus

Prep Time: 15 min

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour 15 min


  • 1 large octopus (about 1 kg), cleaned
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ yellow onion
  • 7-8 peppercorns
  • 5-6 cloves
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 Tbsp finely diced red bell pepper (capscicum)
  • 2 Tbsp finely diced green bell pepper (capscicum)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp pimenton dulce
  • 1 Tbsp finely diced chives
  • coarse or flaky sea salt
  • crusty bread to serve



  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Push the cloves into the onion (like a pin cushion) and place in the pot along with the peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves. Lower the octopus into the pot, tentacles first. Lower heat to a gentle simmer and cook, covered, until the octopus is done (a sharp knive inserted into the thickest part should penetrate easily).
    This will take about 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the octopus.
  2. While the octopus is cooking, mix the diced peppers, olive oil and pimenton in a bowl to make a marinade. Season lightly with salt.
  3. Remove the octopus with tongs or a slotted spoon and drain well. Cut into 2" (5 cm) pieces and add to the marinade. Toss well.
  4. Sprinkle some coarse/flaky sea salt on top, garnish with the chives and serve.

Based on a dish at Donostia (link)

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