Recipe: Mark and Talia Kurlansky's Haitian Grilled Octopus

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Grilled Octopus

This dish actually should be made with conch, which the Haitians call lambi. Conch, though, is hard to get, not only where I live but everywhere. In Haiti, fishermen have become so accustomed to taking young, undersize conch that they no longer even remember what a full-size adult looks like. The mature conch has a broad lip that extends far beyond the coiled body. Look at the piles of shells bleached white and pink in the Haitian sun that accumulate where fishermen work, and you will not find one fully mature shell.

Octopus is arguably better food than conch. Stories of how it is tough and must be beaten to break down the fiber and make it edible are not true. However, this is true of conch. So why isn’t more octopus eaten? Simply because fishermen hate them. Octopus are hard to kill and they do not lie peacefully on the deck of a fishing boat or even in a tank. They wander. They like to get into things. They crawl into bags and gear. They hang from the ceiling of the pilothouse. They crawl into the engine hatch. They are a nuisance, but a tasty nuisance.

If you follow this simple recipe, the octopus will not be tough. Have the fish store remove the organ sack and the ink sack, cut off the beak in the center, and cut out the eyes.


1 medium-size octopus, about 6 to 8 pounds uncleaned

juice of 6 limes

3 tablespoons peanut oil

a pinch of salt

3 turns of black pepper

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

3 thin slices of white onion, rings separated and cut in half

1 Scotch bonnet pepper, minced

Plunge the octopus into boiling water and keep it there for 10 seconds. Let it cool down and then do the same thing again. See Talia’s sidebar for more on this process. Then let it simmer in water just below bubbling for 1 hour.

Cut the octopus into bite-size pieces and mix the pieces with the lime juice, peanut oil, salt and black pepper, garlic, onion slices, and Scotch bonnet pepper. Serve chilled.