pulpo a la gallega – Galician octopus

A guide to food in Spain – O-P-Q


pulpo a la gallega – Galician octopus (Polbo á feira/polvo à feira in Galician meaning fair-style octopus) is one of the most famous of Galician dishes. Its Galician name derives from the fact that its was commonly served up at traditional fairs and markets in the Galician hinterland.

Photo of Galician Octopus by José Antonio Gil Martínez and taken here from Flickr and ceded under the Creative Commons License, and with the author’s kind permision.

The octopus is firstly boiled whole inside a copper cauldron. Before the actual cooking starts, the whole octopus is dipped in and out of the salted boiling water three times, while holding its head. The objective of this operation is to curl the tips of the tentacles. The tentacles are preferred to the head, which sometimes is discarded. The optimal cooking point is when octopus is neither rubbery nor overcooked, -al dente one could say. This is roughly achieved after 20 minutes of boiling. The octopus is then left for a further 20 minutes inside the hot water away from the heat.

The octopus chunks are then sprinkled with coarse salt and pimentón and drizzled with olive oil. The dish is generally served on a round wooden platter, along with cachelos (sliced boiled potatoes) and bread. Tradition dictates that one must never mix drinking water and octopus, and so the dish is usually accompanied by a young red wine.

It is somewhat paradoxical that octopus has been historically more widespread (and allegedly better cooked) in the Galician hinterland than on the Galician coast. In recent decades, frozen octopus has replaced dried octopus. Fresh octopus is not used as often these days, as it is necessary to pound it heavily or bash it against a wall before cooking in order to break the beast’s tissues and prevent the dish from becoming rubbery. Modern practices avoids this simply by freezing the animal, which, unlike with fish, does not alter its organoleptic properties.

Pulperías are restaurants specialising in octopus, and tend be rough-and-ready affairs, though outside Galicia not necessarily cheap

This dish has also been adopted in many parts of Spain, where it is usually found under the Spanish name Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician style octopus).

Patrick M. sent me this first-hand experience of the Galician octupus experience:

“Special mention, however, at least in my book, goes to pulpo (octopus). I must confess that I had for many years considered it a vastly overrated dish – Spanish friends forever taking me to successive places where they served “the best pulpo in town” and having to chew my way through the slightly-to-very-rubbery blubbery flesh, texture merely depending on how lucky I was that day.

And then my brother-in-law married a young lady from Galicia and his mother-in-law had prepared some 20 kilos of the stuff for the banquet in the garden. Out of pure courtesy I took a forkful of the stuff when she shoved the wooden platter in my face, and it was a turning point in my gastronomic experience. For those of you who have yet to experience it, I can assure you that a well-prepared pulpo is the tenderest of meats. In those days, everyone had their own folk version as to the best way of preparing it so as to ensure tenderness (I’ll spare you the details).

But my mother-in-law-by-marriage insisted that the only way to guarantee results was by freezing the pulpo . This has since become standard practice and it is now possible to enjoy a decent-to-excellent “pulpo a la feira” (served with cachelos – thickly sliced, boiled potatoes – and sprinkled with paprika, coarse sea salt and streams of olive oil) in many places. “

Thanks for that Patrick.