Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tapas Platter

I love living in cities or neighborhoods that are "walkable." In San Francisco, my favourite flat was the one on Polk and Bay. From there I could walk to the Marina, Crissy Field, Fort Mason, The Embarcadero, North Beach and even to Union Square on days when I'd be oozing with energy to climb the infamous hills of the city by the bay. I loved being a stone's throw away from the shops and restaurants of Polk, Union and Chestnut streets. It meant I could easily entertain myself when I could no longer bear one more minute stuck at home.

Now that I am in Sydney, I don't live within the city limits. In fact, we live quite a way from the city. The saving grace for a city girl like me is that I still have many places to walk to on days when I just need to get out. Now I enjoy walking to the beach where I still have my strip of cafes and small shops, along the coast to any of the other nearby towns and my most frequent walk - down the road to a plethora of choices when it comes to shopping for food.

I absolutely love it! I can actually spend a whole afternoon surveying all the different food stores to see what's fresh and what's on special. I then go home and proceed to plan my weekly menu and shop. For groceries, I have a choice of Coles, Woolworths and about 4 Asian ones. For fresh produce and higher end items I have Harris Farms and Dee Why Fresh Market, I have Aussie, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese butchers to choose from, a Vietnamese bread bakery and a fish monger with the most beautiful seafood. What more can I ask for right? Sometimes I end up with too many meal ideas for the number of meals one can consume in a week. It's not a bad problem I know but there are weeks when I have to forbid myself from stepping foot in any of the said establishments in order to stick with the food budget!

Ah! The fish monger - he is one of my favourites because he really knows his products so well. It makes me feel more confident that I am buying good stuff when the person selling it to me has great tips to share and is really passionate about his/her product. This is actually the reason why I've stopped going to one of the Asian butchers I mentioned. Each time I'd ask about a certain cut of meat, he'd just shrug and show no interest in helping me figure out what the best cut is for the dish I want to make. One day it got to me and I couldn't help but tell him that he ought to learn more about his products so that he could answer customer questions and sell more effectively. I just felt like he was not giving his products the respect they deserved. That probably sounded weird but to me, this is the reason why I really like going to the fish monger's. So... back to him. I had been buying whole fish for steaming and roasting from him, then some prawns and mussels week in and week out. Recently though he had baby octopus on special and convinced me to try it. I'd never cooked octopus and I was a bit scared about taking this new challenge on. I just had to make sure that I was not going to serve up a rubbery mess. So I asked him some questions, did my own research and even asked my chef/seafood specialist cousin about how best to prepare these babies. I was finally ready to attack and this is what I did:

Pulpo a la Plancha
800 grams of baby octopus
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 t chili flakes
salt and pepper

Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, garlic, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Marinate the octopus in the this mixture for 24 hours to tenderize and flavor the otherwise tasteless creatures. 

(I later found out from Maggie Beer's show that you can also use mashed kiwi fruit to tenderize octopus. I'll have to try that the next time I make this dish. She also mentioned that you should check with the fish monger that the octopus has been tumbled before being sold at the market as this ensures a tender product.)

When you are ready to cook and serve the octopus, slightly oil a grill pan. A charcoal grill is preferable but I don't have one. Drain the octopus from the marinade and sear each one for about 2 minutes on each side. You'll have to be careful not to overcook them or they'll become rubbery. Serve immediately while hot with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. 

It turns out that making octopus is really not that difficult. I was really happy that we ended up with a light, fresh and exciting tapas platter.

The other items on the platter are:
-Sobrasada on Melba Toast

-Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese and Lemon Vinaigrette

-Piquillo Peppers - dry grill whole red peppers directly on the flame of a grill or stove top. Once charred on all sides, put peppers in a paper bag. The steam will lift the skins off so you can slide them off simply by hand. Slice peppers into thin strips.

Champignones a la Jillo: - simply saute mushrooms with olive oil, garlic, butter, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper.

-Patatas - boil potatoes in water flavoured with lemon, a whole small onion, 1T whole black peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, and salt. Slice into rounds and finish with extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and chopped parsley.


  1. love the look of your tapas platter! i agree with you about people knowing their produce it just shows they care

  2. I envy you your different choices of butchers (except for the ornery Asian one)! The charming fish monger too! That is something I really miss here in Manila...although in the markets you can find purveyors that are directly involved in their products/produce and yes, it's definitely great to speak with them and you get so inspired to make things!

    Your tapas spread looks delicious...and so professionally put together too! There is a pulpo dish that Carlo and I love from Spain, Pulpo Gallego...really good :)

  3. That looked excellent! I'd order that in a bar any day! I do miss walking to my local butcher and talking about what cut fits what I want to cook... haaay... somehow I think it'll be a long til SM Hypermart provides that service...

    Glad I was able to help!

  4. Thanks for dropping by Suze and yes, I was quite inspired that day! : )

    Hey Joey, thanks for always reading and commenting. : ) I'll try Pulpo Gallego next. In fact, that's where the idea for the boiled potatoes came from. You guys should come to Sydney, you'll be so inspired!

  5. Hello Rikks, Mr. Dirty Apron! Yes, thanks to you I was sure I was not going to massacre the baby pulpos! Just come visit me, I'll serve you that platter upon your arrival. ; ) SM Hypermart... oh boy!