This is classic Ancient Greece. Though not necessarily limited to classical Ancient Greece.
From the earliest Neolithic settlers, up until the present day really, Octopus Salad represents an Aegean staple.
This is the ancient version, lacking citrus and using ingredients representative of the ingredients that were available. The simplest rendition of this is just cold octopus chopped up and tossed in olive oil. You don’t need more than that, but by adding barley, onions, garlic, greens, and fish sauce, tied with mustard for favorite ancient condiment of the world, we can really build up the flavor.
ANCIENT GREEK OCTOPUS SALAD
-1 raw baby or medium sized octopus
-2 shallots, split
-1 head garlic, split lengthwise
-3 spring onions, greens and whites (scallions can substitute if you use a whole bunch)
-1 bunch fresh greens (Pea tendrils pictured)
-1/4 cup whole grain barley
-Salt and Garos Vinaigrette (equal parts olive oil, fish sauce, and vinegar) to taste. And Some black pepper if you’re rich.
To start, we have to “boil” the Octopus.
For millennia, ancient recipes have all used the word boil to refer to the act of cooking in hot water. Light poaching? Simmering? An actual rolling boil? It’s all the same in old sources, even up to recent centuries.
In the case of Octopus, we want to add it to the pot with the split shallots and garlic, adding enough cold water to cover by an inch. Bring the water to an aggressive simmer, with a lot of bubbling but not a full boil, and cook for about 1.5 to 2 hours, until the Octopus is tender. Remove octopus to a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Discard the other poaching aromatics, and reserve the cooking liquid.
Slice the spring onions thinly and on a bias. If desired, lightly chop the greens. I used p-tips because they were in season and looked fresh and tasty, but you can use anything from spinach, arugula, mustard, or whatever is available really.
Cook the barley. Bring the Octopus stock you’ve made to a heavy boil and add the grains, cooking them until they are mostly tender all the way through, but still contain a substantial bite. Like really al dente pasta. Drain. After a minute, while the barley is still quite hot, add it to the bowl to wilt the greens and the onions. Set aside.
Now finish the Octopus by searing it. You can do this quite deliciously in a blazing hot saute pan, but even more deliciously, and more authentically Greek, is to sear it on a charcoal grill.
Prepare the Garos vinaigrette. Garos is what the Ancient Greeks called fish sauce, and you almost forget you can’t use lemons when you use it properly. It gives this salad its unique, ancient Mediterranean flavor. Combine equal parts of a high quality fish sauce with olive oil and white or wine vinegar. For a single salad, 1/4 cup of each is probably enough.
BE GENEROUS with that stuff. It’s hard to overdress this salad with a dressing this delicious.
Chop up the Octopus, and toss with the rest of the salad. Serve room temperature, and have a fresh, salty bite of the Aegean Sea.