The octopus capital

St. Luzia (Polvo) Composit

The best octopus in Portugal comes from Santa Luzia, a small village near Tavira in the Algarve. The locals proudly call it octopus capital.

The shores of Santa Luzia are full of small shrimp that attract the octopi. Old-time fishermen lay clay pots called “alcatruz” in the water. The octopi cuddle in these pots to sleep and get caught when the pots are removed from the water.

Younger fishermen don’t like to wait for the mollusks to fall asleep, so they prefer to use a “covo,” a plastic trap with a sardine inside.

Old timers swear that the octopus caught with the alcatruz tastes much better than the one caught with the covo. But young and old agree that Casa do Polvo is a great place to eat octopus. There are many preparations to choose from, including carpaccio, stewed, fried, and roasted. Our favorite is “polvo panado,” octopus combined with egg and bread crumbs and then fried. No matter which preparation you choose, the octopus is tender and delicious.

If you’re traveling in the Algarve, it is a great idea to include Santa Luzia on your itinerary. You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a wonderful meal and earn the right to brag that you’ve visited the octopus capital.

Casa do Polvo is on Avenida Eng. Duarte Pacheco, N. 8, Santa Luzia, Tavira. Tel. 281-328-527. In the Summer reservations are a must.

How to cook fresh octopus

When you eat octopus in a Portuguese restaurant, it is always tender and delicious. But, when you buy fresh octopus and cook it at home, it often turns into a rubbery disappointment.

Portuguese chefs stage an elaborate disinformation campaign to keep secret their cooking technique. They tell you to cook the octopus with an onion, a cork, or a nail; or leave it in the pot until the water is cold; or cook it in red wine or in red vinegar; or beat it three times on the kitchen counter; or “scare” it by raising it from the boiling water. All these tricks produce inedible, chewy octopus.

So, how do you tenderize this eight-armed mollusk? You freeze the fresh octopus before you cook it! That’s all. But please don’t tell anyone; it’s a secret.