Octopus. Regardless of how it's prepared, I generally love eating the squirmy, tentacled creatures. A great, low-fat seafood option, octopus has this wonderfully distinctive texture. It's also light and fun to eat -- the perfect summertime dish. Our city's chefs must feel the same way I do, because I've found so many dishes, my original idea for a Top 5 has morphed into a Top 10. And here they are, for your eating pleasure: Top 10 Octopus Dishes in Houston.
10. Octopus carpaccio at Coppa
One of the most popular appetizers on the Coppa menu, the octopus carpaccio is regularly cited by the servers as a "must-have" dish, and rightly so. Cooked in wine and water, then set in a terrine mold before being quickly chilled, the octopus is then sliced so thinly that it's translucent. Paired with a small salad of mizuna greens, pickled Fresno chiles, fingerling potatoes and diced Castelvetrano olives, this fun, light appetizer is easy on the eyes and the palate.
9. Octopus in garlic butter sauce at Mambo Seafood
Octopus may not feature on the menu in the same way that the fish does at Mambo's, but it's definitely something you can order and something you won't forget. Order it with garlic butter sauce, and you'll be amazed as I was at the deliciousness that awaits you. With a taste like Spanish tapas, and served in a generous portion that can be shared, it can be eaten by the spoonful or with an order of Mambo's famous fried rice. You'll marvel at how tasty and flavorful this dish is.
8. Pulpo al olivo at Latin Bites
Peruvian Chef Roberto Castre makes an excellent sashimi-style appetizer, pulpo al olivo, from Gulf Coast octopus that is delivered to his restaurant daily. To soften the texture of the octopus and enhance its natural flavors, he boils the octopus with salt, onion and tomato. The thinly sliced pieces of octopus are arranged on a plate, interspersed with small kisses of sweet potato puree, Peruvian corn (choclo), dots of house-made aji amarillo mayonnaise and slivers of green onion, then finished off with some olive oil. Creamy, sweet, tangy, fatty and crispy, the dish has a little bit of everything, yet is distinctively Peruvian in style. Muy bueno!
7. Grilled baby octopus at Triniti
One of the new dishes on the summer menu, Triniti's baby octopus combines the lightness of cucumber with the salty essence of chorizo. The small little tentacles are charred to give it a smokiness, which is complemented well by the strong spices in the chorizo. Texturally, the crisp crunchiness of the fresh cucumbers, which are rolled and interspersed throughout the dish, serves to accent the slightly chewy firmness of the octopus flesh. Marbled potatoes and chorizo oil finish off this lovely dish.
6. Octopus carpaccio at Branch Water Tavern
Chef David Grossman's version of octopus carpaccio utilizes fresh local ingredients in a dish that is as refreshing as it is beautifully plated. The moist yet thinly sliced red wine-braised octopus carpaccio is topped with a medley of colorful, heirloom cherry tomatoes, grapefruit wedges, fennel and crispy garlic chips. The fennel, grapefruit and tomato give the octopus an organic spiciness and tang, while the garlic chips add a distinctive crunchy component to contrast nicely with the softer texture of the octopus, an unexpected surprise that ties the entire dish together.
5. Octopus a la plancha at Ibiza
People who love tentacles will love Chef Charles Clark's Spanish octopus dish, the octopus a la plancha. His Spanish-style preparation of the imported, Mediterranean octopus is a big hit among Latin Americans in town, who Clark claims will come to his restaurant just for his octopus. To prepare it, the octopus is braised overnight, then finished on the grill with slight char, and topped with slivers of crispy Spanish chorizo slices and a salsa verde. The result is octopus that is tender with a slight chew, a smoky crust and the deep flavors of the sea.
4. Octopus carpaccio at La Fisheria.
It's a shame that his pulpo con patatas is no longer available, but Chef Aquiles Chavez is still doing some pretty awesome pulpo. He boils it until it's soft, then marinates it in chimichurri and other spices. Chavez presses the pulpo together into a roll, freezes it, then thinly slices it up in rounds before serving it with green salad and fried onions. A red wine oregano vinaigrette, a dusting of chamoy and a few squeezes of lemon finish off this light and beautiful pulpo carpaccio, generously plated so that two or three people can share.
3. Pulpo al carbon at Hugo's
If you love octopus and tacos, you'll love Hugo's pulpo al carbon. Served in a small metal skillet, the grilled octopus is chopped, then tossed with onions and peppers, accompanied by small blue corn tortillas and a spicy chipotle tomatillo salsa. It's technically available on the dinner menu as an entremeses, or appetizer, but if you ask nicely enough, they may even serve this to you at lunch. As one person described it to me recently, "Pulpo al carbon at Hugo's is the sh*t!"
2. Octopus crudo at Kata Robata
The pure white carpaccio-like pieces of this octopus crudo at Kata Robata are so thin that when you try to pick a piece up with your chopsticks, it bunches up in the same way a wet piece of paper would. It's served with nothing more than Hawaiian volcanic salt, olive oil and sweet pickled shimeji mushrooms with micro cilantro, and the beauty and simplicity of this dish are undeniable. Pure ingredients, perfect execution, delicious through and through.
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1. Grilled octopus at Da Marco
There can be no doubt about the supremacy of Da Marco's Mediterranean grilled octopus. It bursts with juices when you cut into it. The outer shell is crisped almost as if it had been deep fried in batter, when in fact it's just the crispy perfection of the octopus's natural skin. The seasoning is restrained, just a bit of salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon. Take one bite, and it's as if you've been transported to a coastal town in Italy. It's served with a small salad of arugula, fennel and tangy-sweet orange wedges tossed in a light vinaigrette, and the acidity in the salad marries well with the octopus's deep, salty flavors of the ocean.