Detroit perhaps isn't the first place one thinks of when it comes to eating great octopus. While the Midwestern city is close to plenty of fresh water fisheries, there's not an ocean in sight. However, Midtown's Chartreuse Kitchen & Cocktails is proving that Detroiters love cephalopod. On a busy night, chef Doug Hewitt says Chartreuse may sell 25 plates of his hit grilled Spanish octopus and thinks the secret to the dish's success is in the preparation. He says, "I think [octopus is] just familiar enough, just intriguing enough, and it's served really, really simple. I mean who doesn't like cucumber, onion, fennel?"
"Octopus is always best with a little char. It needs that burnt flavor."
Hewitt starts out with a fresh, leggy Spanish octopus between two and four pounds. The octopus is first blanched in a bouillon of fennel, lemon, lime, oranges, and "everything that tastes good," for approximately three minutes. The protein is removed when the legs start to curl and the skin turns from bluish-gray to bright red. The chef then places the partially cooked octopus on a bed of fresh ingredients identical to those found in the broth and adds salt and oil. He then places the covered pan in the oven at 275 degrees for three to four hours. For those who've been burned by chewy octopus before, Hewitt has an answer: "Octopus that's chewy is undercooked so really the key to good octopus is slow." The chef knows the meat is ready to leave the oven when the purple pigmentation wipes easily off the skin.
Next the white, meaty tentacles are tossed in salt, pepper, and oil, and placed on a grill. "Octopus is always best with a little char. It needs that burnt flavor," he says. Once the octopus is grilled to perfection, it's sliced into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Cucumber, fennel, and chili flake go onto the plate first, followed by sea salt, olive oil, chorizo, and pink pepper. Finally, cold-pickled onions, fennel oil, and octopus are arranged on the plate, ready for delivery to the customer's table. "As long as it's done the right way, its actually an extremely pleasing experience," Hewitt says.