Recipe: Pulpo al olivo

This is one of the dishes I made for the international dinner we had last Saturday. It was created by Rosita Yimura, a Japanese-Peruvian cook who is known as the mother of Peruvian nikkei cuisine. She developed the dish as a way to marry octopus sashimi with the excellent taste of Peruvian olives.

Pulpo al olivo is served as an entrée, usually with soda crackers. It’s a simple dish if you are able to cook the octopus until tender. If not, buy baby or medium-sized ones. There are a number of myths about how to achieve a tender octopus. Some people swear that a natural cork in the boiling water does the trick, others say that a rice “doll” (rice wrapped in cheesecloth) is the way to go. When cooking big octopuses I use less superstitious methods: smash the animal with a rolling pin and freeze it before cooking to break its muscle fibres.

Regarding the other main ingredient, the olives, I prefer to use Peruvian ones. I grew up with their taste and for me it’s hard to replace. In Sydney, I’ve been able to buy them jarred in Tierras Latinas and fresh in Flemington Paddy’s Market (in the only stall that sells queso fresco). These olives, called aceitunas de botija, are bigger and have a deeper purple colour than regular kalamatas. Their taste is slightly more bitter and fruity at the same time, really hard to describe. Anyway, if you don’t have Peruvian olives, use kalamatas instead. Or any other olive you like. In the photo below you can see the size difference between a very dark kalamata and a Peruvian olive.

Olives

There are a bunch of optional ingredients in this recipe. Omitting them will make no harm to the final result, but this is the way I like to prepare the dish.

Pulpo al olivo
Yield: four servings as an entrée

Pulpo al olivo

1 medium-large octopus or 4 medium octopuses
1 onion (optional)
1 carrot (optional)
1 celery stalk (optional)
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon mustard (Dijon or American)
2 limes
1/2 cup canola or other neutral oil
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
6 – 8 Peruvian olives, pitted (or any olives, adjusting the quality according to their size and taste)
1/2 celery stalk (optional)
1/2 small brown onion (optional)
soda crackers to serve

Chop the onion, carrot and celery stalk in large chunks. Boil water in a pot, salt lightly and add the octopus and vegetables (which are optional but good for taste). Cook until the octopus is tender, to test it pinch it with a fork where the tentacles meet its body. If the fork goes through fairly easily, it’s ready.

Let octopus cool down, slice thinly and refrigerate.

Thinly slice the half celery stalk and small onion. Soak the onion in cold water. This step is optional.

Prepare a mayonnaise by whisking the egg yolk with the mustard and a teaspoon of lime juice and adding the oils as slowly as you can. Season with salt and pepper. Blend or process the olives with a little mayonnaise (one or two tablespoons), then mix with the rest of the mayonnaise by hand.

If using celery and onion, drain the onion, and mix both with the octopus. Squeeze lime juice over the mix. Arrange in a platter (sashimi-style) and dress with the olive mayonnaise or mix everything and spoon on a dish.

Serve with soda crackers.

2 thoughts on “Recipe: Pulpo al olivo

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