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The Medieval Way of Cooking Octopus

“This is a vile fish of no value; therefore cook it the way you want.” ~ Liber de Coquina, a 14th century cookbook.

Grilled octopus - photo by Alpha / Flickr
Grilled octopus – photo by Alpha / Flickr

Medieval cookbooks often contain recipes for a large variety of birds, fish and animals. From peacocks to porcupines, you can find ways to prepare and cook these foods, often with the addition of many spices and other ingredients.

One sea creature, the octopus, could be found in the Mediterranean Sea and in the waters off other medieval seaports. It is not surprising, therefore, that it was mentioned in a few culinary collections. Platina’s Right Pleasure and Good Health, a 15th-century work from Italy, offers these thoughts:

On octopus – The polypus has been named because it has many feet. It uses its gills as feet and hands, and its tail, which is two-pronged and is pointed, while mating. They are very pleased with smell, and they eat the flesh of shellfish. They carry everything into their house and then separate the shells from the red meat. It hunts the small fish which are swimming near the shells. You season a cooked octopus with pepper and asafetida.

Meanwhile, The Book of Sent Sovi, a 14th-century Catalan text, gives this recipe:

To Stuff Octopus – If you want to stuff octopus or squid, take the octopus and wash it well, boil it, cut off the arms, and take out what is inside. Chop the arms all together with parsley, mint, marjoram and other good herbs. You can chop another kind of fish if the tentacles are not enough. Put in the best spices that you can find. Make sure that the octopus is cleaned well. Put in the stuffing, and put in raisins and scalded garlic and fried onion. Then make almond milk with the broth that has boiled the fish, and put it in a bowl or a casserole together with the octopus; in the milk you can put a little verjuice and good spices, the best you might have, and oil. You can cook it in the oven or on iron trivet with live coals beneath.

It may sound delicious, but Platina writes these words of warning about eating octopus:

Whatever way you cook it, you will say it is bad.

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