Octopus: Not just the stuff of nautical legends and World Cup match predictions, but also a damn tasty dish. Here are five places doing justice to the mighty mollusk.
Buster’s Sea Cove octopus tacos (top left in photo)
Owner Tom Antonarakis wanted a non-fried addition to his food-truck menu, so he chose this spicy octopus taco. Meaty hunks of Moroccan octopus tentacles are marinated in olive oil and herbs, then steamed until tender with a slight chew. On the truck, the octopus is quickly seared on the flat top, stuffed in a soft tortilla, and topped with fiery pico de gallo and roja sauce, cabbage, and a cool crema. At Buster’s St. Lawrence stall, the octopus is grilled on a barbecue until lightly smoky. Together, the truck and shop go through 100 pounds of octopus a week.
$10 for two. Follow @bustersseacove for locations and times.
Buca’s soppressata di polpo (bottom left in photo)
Chef Rob Gentile and his sous chef Danny Hassell hit upon this while experimenting for Buca’s forthcoming Yorkville location, which will have a seafood-focussed salumi menu. Gentile cooks the octopus sous vide, seasons it with lemon and parsley, then stuffs it into casing. The soppressata slices are served with smoked potatoes, a leafy salt-water green called aggretti, and a house-made yogurt spiked with mustard extract. “Potato and octopus are a classic combination. The octopus has an intense ocean taste, the aggretti has a salty tang, and the mustard gives it a crazy sharp hit,” he says. “Talking about it makes my mouth water.”
$14. 604 King St. W., 416-865-1600.
Bar Isabel’s grilled octopus (centre in photo)
“The goal is to have a true, sea-tasting octopus—this is for purists,” says chef Grant van Gameren of his grilled octopus dish. An entire four-to-six-pound beast from Spain is simmered in a pot of water, vinegar, and salt until it’s cooked. It’s then cooled, oiled, and slightly charred for 10 minutes on the grill, before being tossed with garlic, lemon, parsley, and olive oil, and served alongside potatoes and grilled dandelion greens. Van Gameren recently introduced a half-portion for smaller appetites, but adds that octopus “reheats really well and you can use it for pastas or salads the next day.”
$34/$59 (half/whole). 797 College St., 416-532-2222.
Guu SakaBar’s takoyaki (top right in photo)
The uninitiated octopus taster usually opts for these traditional Japanese fried octopus balls, where the golden brown batter covers the pieces of slightly chewy limbs. (Hey, out of sight, out of mind—but full of flavour.) “In Japan, there are small booths at outdoor summer festivals that make takoyaki,” says chef Natsuhiko Sugimoto, adding that on a busy night, Guu serves about 50 orders of them. A basic batter of egg, water, and flour, chopped vegetables and octopus, and pickled ginger are fried into piping-hot little spheres that are topped with karashi mayo and a tart, HP-like tonkatsu sauce.
$5. 559 Bloor St. W., 647-343-1101.
Joso’s spaghettini Leonardo (bottom right in photo)
When Leo Spralja’s family opened this Mediterranean restaurant 36 years ago, people were hesitant to eat anything “squiggly,” he says. But now Joso’s is known for its succulent octopus dishes, including the spaghettini Leonardo, a menu staple for the past three decades. Delicate strands of pasta are tossed in a light sauce of olive oil, lemons, capers, garlic, parsley, and white wine, with shrimp and steamed Tunisian octopus added to soak up the smooth flavours. “When you immerse raw octopus in boiling water, it perks up like a jewelled necklace,” Spralja says. “That’s what gives it the beautiful puffiness.”
$15/$26 (small/large). 202 Davenport Rd., 416-925-1903.
Eight facts about our eight-armed friend
1. Can change skin colour and texture to blend into backgrounds.
2. Able to regrow lost limbs.
3. Can squeeze into crevices a fraction of its size (no skeleton!).
4. Can crush shells with its beak.
5. Can kill a man (well, the blue-ringed octopus can).
6. Able to spew ink at enemies for a quick escape.
7. Has nine brains and three hearts.
8. Plays maracas during the chorus of The Little Mermaid’s “Under the Sea.”