Today’s grilled octopus recipe (polvo à lagareiro) is inspired by a recent trip we took to Portugal. Since Nelson and I have been together, we’ve visited the Azores (Portuguese Islands way out in the middle of the Atlantic, between North America and Western Europe), but we’d never yet been to continental Portugal together.
In fact, Nelson had never visited continental Europe until now. For me, it was a return after 31 years. It’s busier now than I recall it being when I was a teen, but it felt familiar and comfortable.
25 Years deserves something special
This year Nelson and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and we’d decided earlier in the year that we’d celebrate by taking the kids to Portugal to explore my parents’ homeland and show them a part of Europe they’d never experienced before.
Then we received an invite from friends to attend their wedding. Destination Portugal. Fall 2019. RSVP… count us in!
It was a no-brainer.
Talk about stars aligning. Not only was the destination perfect, but while we’d originally planned to visit in the summer, we weren’t looking forward to the heat and crowds of summer, so a late September timeframe was perfection. Then the realization that the wedding would be at an ocean-side fort had us beyond excited. Could this get any better?!
So much to see… too little time…
Portugal’s landmass is not huge, but with a short 10 days there, and a lot of ‘must see’ spots on our list, we had a lot of country to cover. So, we got going the morning after we arrived. Who cares about Jet-lag!
With many folks from Canada going to the wedding, we had an opportunity to do some site seeing with friends, and that’s what we did for one glorious, albeit rainy, day.
Awesome tour guides!
A couple of local tour guides (Portuguese friends of the groom) zipped us around for the day–stopping at both touristy and also less-known spots. In the region of Sintra, we drove through a forest in the clouds; a micro climate, like a rainforest. The earth beneath the trees was blanketed in a fog and a gentle mist filled the air. It was magical; like something out of a movie.
At the edge of Europe
Soon enough we were standing on a cliff at the Western-most point of continental Europe (Cabo da Roca, Cascais). We went to a lesser-known spot and saw a huge cavity in the earth, the aftermath of a meteor crash.
The rolling hills, deep cliffs, ocean waves crashing, and the sandy beaches below that appeared impossible to reach were mesmerizing. Just gorgeous. Even though it was drizzling and windy, I think I could have sat at the cliff all day, just breathing in the ocean’s salty air and watching the waves roll in.
That was just the start of the trip. Heck, that was just the start of day one. We saw a lot more the rest of the week, including a visit to a castle, historic monuments, a certain famous bakery in Belem (known as the original and most delicious pasteis de nata, custard tarts), and more modern places like the Oceanario that was built for World Expo 1998.
We were lucky to get to spend a few days in the North of Portugal, and even spent a few hours in Spain too.
On our return from Spain we drove through a walled city where canons still sit, showing us the history of how they protected this city, perched high on a hill, with only one narrow passage in and out. It was incredible.
We went to Ponte de Lima another day, where we strolled through old streets of cobblestone and walked over a bridge that was built by the Romans about 2000 years ago, crossing over Rio Lima (Lima River).
Cobblestone roads, hand-painted tile walls, laundry drying on lines outside of apartment windows. These are things that remind me of Portugal and I recall my visits long ago. Things that make Portugal special. Things that remind me of its history and which I’m happy to see remain part of this beautiful country that I’m proud to be connected to.
We walked a lot on this trip! And a lot of it felt uphill. Maybe what my dad used to tell me about “walking to school, barefoot, uphill, both ways”, was true. It sure felt like it. But every step took us to yet another beautiful place, so it was always well worth the trek.
There’s truly so much beauty, history and great food in this country. And although we saw a lot, and although we want to also see more of Europe, we must (and will) go back to see and taste more of Portugal .
Theme: Great food and drink
Fresh delicious food was the other important part of this trip. Highlights included pasteis de nata from Manteigaria, homemade fish stew with fish caught by Nelson’s cousin, the famous Francesinha sandwich meal famous in Porto, sweet Ovos Moles from Aveiro, tapas style fish and seafood dinner in Lisbon, and for Nelson, this polvo à lagareiro dish he had in Belem…just to name a few.
We also ate at cool locations, including at a table on the end of a pier across the Tejo River, with Lisbon in the distance. This restaurant, Ponte Final, was a must-visit spot for us and Nelson made sure we’d get a table. He’d made reservations well before we left Canada.
It’s one of the places Phil Rosenthal visited during his Somebody Feed Phil Netflix show filming in Portugal and, after we saw that episode, we knew we had to experience this for ourselves. Nelson had a cod dish with smashed potatoes, similar to the ones in this recipe, while I had steak and potatoes. Seeing as there are no guard rails on this pier, it’s a good idea not to enjoy too much vinho (wine) with lunch.
I can say that I tried a lot of new foods, including pig ear (which I don’t feel the need to repeat, but I’m glad I tried), and I sipped ginginha with friends and enjoyed a Port wine-tasting in Porto, in the Sandeman Port cellars next to the famous Douro River.
No visit is complete without a visit to the beach
Apparently. Our little guy was very eager to spend time at the beach. He saw sand and water and didn’t consider how bone-chilling the temperature of the water might be. He didn’t care much either, as he insisted we had to go to the beach.
So we did! The air was chilly and the waves were rolling in with force, but we played at the water’s edge, teasing the ocean and then trying to outrun the waves as they reached the shoreline. We won most of the time ;-). We arrived at the beach at around 6:00pm and stayed to watch a gorgeous sunset over the horizon of the ocean. It was a special moment we won’t soon forget and it meant so much to our little guy and that’s what mattered most to us.
It’s a beautiful world. I hope everyone gets a chance to explore some of it. There’s certainly a lot more we want to explore in our lifetime; including more of our own country (Canada). Wherever your travels take you, we hope that you always find friendly people, beautiful sites, and delicious food, just as we did in Portugal.
Eat well, friends.
Portuguese style grilled octopus with smashed potatoes (polvo à lagareiro)
- 2.65 lbs or 1.2 kg whole octopus cleaned. Cut out the mouth. This is the black piece on the inside in the centre.
- 1 lb fingerling potatoes with the peel and washed (or small white potatoes)
- 1 tbsp kosher salt for boiling the potatoes
- 3/4 cups olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt for roasting the potatoes
- 4 cloves of garlic sliced thin
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped
- 1/2 cup black olives
- Fill a medium to large pot half way with water, add the 1 tbsp is salt, and boil the potatoes for about 15 to 20 minutes or until they become tender. Test with a fork. Set aside.
- Using your hands, wash the octopus under cold water, making sure to get each tentacle. This removes sand and any other impurities.
- Fill a large pot to about 3/4 with water and boil the whole octopus for about 40 minutes or until tender. You should be able to easily insert a fork into the thickest part of a tentacle.
- Preheat the oven for broiling at 500 F.
- Preheat the BBQ to 500 F.
- Once the potatoes are ready, pour out the water and pat them dry with paper towel.
- Place the potatoes in a roasting pan.
- Use the bottom of a glass or mug to carefully press down on each potato until they slightly crack. Don’t completely flatten them (see our finished picture).
- Drizzle the olive oil over them.
- Sprinkle the salt and sliced garlic evenly over the potatoes and place the bay leaf in the oil.
- Place the roasting pan with the potatoes in the hot oven on the middle rack and roast for 5 to 10 minutes or until the potatoes start to look slightly charred and golden.
- Drain the octopus and place it on a cutting board.
- Cut the tentacles/arms at the top to get some long pieces. Cut the head in half (see the our finished picture to see how we cut ours).
- Place the octopus pieces on the hot grill and cook each side for about 5 minutes with the lid closed.
- Scoop the potatoes onto a serving dish. Place the grilled octopus beside or over the potatoes.
- Drizzle the olive oil and garlic from the roasting pan over the potatoes and octopus.
- Top with the olives and chopped cilantro.
- Serve hot and enjoy!
- Cooking times may very for both the potatoes and octopus depending on the size of both. Always test for tenderness.
- Traditionally, the octopus cooks in the oven with the potatoes instead of on the BBQ. I love the taste of grilled octopus, so I opted to prepare mine on the grill. Feel free to cook yours with either method.
- If you have a frozen octopus, you can defrost it quickly by running it under cold water for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Octopus shrinks a lot while boiling. This may seem like a lot for two people, but trust us… it’s not!
- We don’t recommend using the small frozen octopus rolls. These are usually too tiny. Buy fresh or frozen where you can see the thicker tentacles.