We had finished our first winter season in the French Alps and wanted to begin our travels through Europe, starting with somewhere sunny. Naturally, we decided that Greece was a great start, given we wanted to experience as much as possible but still enjoy the beach life too. So, over two months, we island-hopped our way from Athens to Crete.

It was spring so places weren't so busy and we found it a lot easier to explore and eat our way around the islands. We were amazed at the fresh produce and loved that there were variations as we travelled to each island. The fresh cheeses with which we topped our dakos at breakfast were favourites, but the octopus definitely won us over. Seeing them hanging outside restaurants and on clotheslines to tenderise them in the sun was something we had never seen before. It made us to want to try an octopus dish on every island we went to.

Fraser McCarthy and Shannon Vandy, chefs and owners of Lillius. Photo / Tez Mercer Photography
Fraser McCarthy and Shannon Vandy, chefs and owners of Lillius. Photo / Tez Mercer Photography

The hospitality was very homely and the people were always excited to show and share their dishes with you.

Now when we taste octopus it takes us back to those sunnier days by the water where all we cared about was where we would eat next.

Advertisement

- Fraser McCarthy and Shannon Vandy are the chefs and owners of Lillius in Grafton, Auckland.
Barbecued octopus

You'll find in-season octopus at good seafood markets. Photo / Tez Mercer Photography
You'll find in-season octopus at good seafood markets. Photo / Tez Mercer Photography

Our recipe can be quite versatile in terms of what you prepare it with. We recommend a fresh tomato and herb salad, mixed with other seafood of your preference or simply by itself. Apolamvano (enjoy)!

New Zealand octopus is in season now, so you should be able to find it fresh at a good seafood market if you ask them.

1 octopus, 1½ kg-2kg
1 carrot, cut into 2cm dice
1 fennel bulb, cut into 2cm dice
4 shallots, cut into 2cm dice
1 tsp coriander seeds
5 sprigs of thyme
6 peeled garlic cloves, crushed whole
100ml red wine vinegar
150ml white wine
150ml olive oil
50ml extra virgin olive oil, for dressing if using
3L water
20g flaky sea salt (this may seem like a lot but you want to mimic the seawater the octopus lives in)

First, wash the octopus thoroughly under cold water in the sink, remove the inner contents from the head and discard. Boil a full kettle and pour water over octopus evenly in the sink. Rinse again in cold water to completely clean the octopus. Place to the side while you prepare the poaching liquid.

In a large pot (6L) cook the diced vegetables, coriander seeds, thyme and garlic in olive oil on a medium heat for 10 mins until shallots are translucent. Once they start to colour, pour in your white wine and red wine vinegar. Reduce the liquid by half then add 3L water and 20g salt. Bring to a simmer and submerge the octopus in the pot, making sure it's fully covered in the liquid.

Turn the heat to low, the liquid should be almost simmering (use a thermometer if you prefer, ideally around 85C). It will take 2-2½ hours to poach. To test if it's ready, use a knife and poke where the tentacles meet the head. The blade should go in and out with ease meaning it's cooked.

Once cooked, let it sit in the liquid off the heat for an hour to cool down. Keep it chilled in your fridge in the liquid (to stop it drying out) until you're ready to serve it.

Advertisement

To serve, grill your octopus (we use charcoal, but a gas grill is just as good). Cut tentacles into their separate legs and cook your octopus on both sides till golden brown. Once grilled, you can either serve in larger cuts or slice to smaller bite-sized pieces.

Make a dressing with 100ml of the strained liquid and 50ml extra virgin olive oil and pour over your octopus. Feel free to add your favourite side dishes.