Octopus Stifado, a Greek Stew with Octopus, Onions and Mint
by eat in my kitchen
A spontaneous decision took me to the island of Naxos in the Aegean sea on a warm early autumn evening a few years ago. My summer holidays had been cancelled due to my work and in late September I felt an urgent need for a break. I had never been to Greece before and when I saw the photos of this dry, quiet island and it’s long and lonely beaches I knew that this was exactly what I had been looking for! Only a handful of the typical Greek houses in white and blue lined the coast, a picture of peace and seclusion. I’m a friend of quick decisions so in mid October I found myself on a ferry crossing the Aegean sea, passing all its beautiful small islands, Santorini, Ios, Irakleia and Paros before I reached the tiny harbour of Naxos in a golden sunset. I fell in love with this island there and then!
A bumpy path through a green valley dense with bamboo led me to my tiny hotel which turned out to be one of the most peaceful places I have ever been to. It was run by a lovely and caring couple from Athens who made me feel like I was part of the family. Most of the rooms were vacant at the time as it was well past the high season. My room was so close to the sea that I could here the soft waves reaching the shore all night, no city noise, no other hotels, no cars, just the sea and a lonely beach! In the morning I found out that I wasn’t the only one enjoying this peaceful place on earth, as the sun rose on the horizon a sea turtle took her morning swim right in front of my hotel!
One night, the lady of the house asked me if I would like to join their dinner, she had made her traditional octopus stifado, a dark, rich stew with octopus and lots of red onions, garlic, tomatoes, red wine, bay leaves and vinegar. The octopus was unbelievably tender, the sauce thick and aromatic, I had to ask for the recipe! We had already enjoyed our dinner and sat together over a few glasses of wine when I wrote down a few notes as she didn’t have a written recipe. It was a beautiful night, unforgettable, under the dark Aegean sky, nearly as black as my stifado!
The octopus has to simmer softly on low temperature for 1 hour 45 minutes.
For 4 people you need
octopus, skinned and cleaned, 1.2kg / 2.5 pounds (around 2 octopus)
medium sized red onions, roughly chopped, 5
tinned tomatoes, 400g / 14 ounces
red wine 300ml / 10 ounces
garlic, peeled and quartered, 5 cloves
bay leaves 4
fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped, a small handful
salt and pepper
Balsamico vinegar to taste
olive oil for frying
In a large pot, heat a splash of olive oil and fry the the onions on a medium heat for 5 minutes till soft. Add a little more oil and the whole octopus, turn the temperature down and fry for a few minutes. Add the other ingredients, close the lid and simmer on a low heat for 1 hour. After an hour, take off the lid and let the stew simmer for another 45 minutes on low temperature. Season with Balsamico vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and add the mint. Cut the head and tentacles into bite sized pieces and serve with either white bread or spaghetti.
This recipe makes a lot of sauce, we usually eat the octopus with bread on the side on the first day and the next day we enjoy the leftovers with pasta.