Polvo à lagareiro is a quintessentially Portuguese seafood dish featuring a boiled and baked octopus with smashed potatoes in a herbed garlic oil. Polvo à lagareiro is a common meal on many tables throughout the country, though many claim the dish hails from the Beiras, a strip of land between the South of the Douro River and the North of the Tagus River.
Polvo à lagareiro, or octopus in the lagareiro-style, is a variation of a more commonly eaten bacalhau à lagareiro featuring cod. Cod is undoubtedly one of the most loved dishes in Portugal and is commonly used salted, which is a tradition carried over from before the times of refrigeration. The lagareiro preparation includes boiled or baked potatoes that are smashed, salted, and tossed with seafood in olive oil with cilantro or other herbs. Bacalhau à lagareiro typically features salted cod, which has been a fall and winter staple food for centuries, but recently other seafood have been prepared in this manner, including the octopus featured in polvo à lagareiro.
Octopus is a seafood commonly eaten throughout the world, but the Portuguese have a special love for the tentacled creatures. Cooking with octopus may be intimidating to some but the beauty of cooking polvo is the simplicity in preparation. Octopi are best when either boiled, lightly braised, or dried in the sun and then grilled (as it’s commonly done in Portugal and throughout the Mediterranean). Take care when salting octopi as salt may harden the skin when boiled in salted water, which can be avoided by lightly pounding the fish before preparing–which is often done by fishmongers against rocks after the boats come in off of the ocean. Cooking and serving octopus in a Portuguese home is often a sign of celebration or a return of family from the fishing boats.
The Portuguese have perfected polvo à lagareiro but many other cuisines throughout the world feature similar octopus dishes. In Spain, the pincho de pulpo a la gallega con chorizo is a finger food dish of octopus, potato, sausage, and peppers or sauce served on a small stick as appetizers or starters. The Italians use octopus in many dishes, including strozzapreti al sugo di polpo, a pasta with octopus in a red sauce. Mexico has pulpo con papas y chorizo, a grilled octopus with fried potatoes and chorizo. And Korea has nakji-bokkeum, or spicy stir-fried octopus. Polvo, or octopus in Portuguese, is enjoyed throughout the world!
Polvo à lagareiro may seem intimidating, but it is actually a very simple dish with minimal ingredients but a lot of flavor. The octopus is first cleaned and then boiled in a pot of unsalted water with a whole onion to give flavor (salt will harden the octopus tentacles, so save the sodium seasoning until after the octopus has been cooked). When done, the octopus is drained and baked with potatoes in a fresh olive oil, smashed garlic, and cilantro sauce and then served family style. Simple preparation but maximum taste!
Polvo à lagareiro can be served among other delicious Portuguese dishes such as alheira (a chicken-based sausage), amêijoas à bulhão pato (clams in a white wine herb sauce), and pasteis de nata (small dessert pastries with custard). The Portuguese table generally also consists of many types of cheeses, breads, seafood soups and stews, and rice.
We hope you enjoy this typical polvo à lagareiro recipe and we would love to hear your thoughts on the recipe and your experience cooking with octopus. Leave us a comment below and share your favorite octopus recipe or your favorite Portuguese dish. Obrigado!
- 4 lb octopus
- 3 lb small white potatoes
- 8 cloves garlic , crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large onion
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 1 bunch cilantro , roughly chopped
- Coarse salt
- Black pepper , freshly ground
- Remove the octopus beak.
- Place the octopus in a large Dutch oven, cover with water and cook for 30 minutes with the unpeeled onion and especially no salt (it would harden the octopus).
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Wash the potatoes, wipe with a cloth, and place in a baking dish sprinkled with coarse salt. Bake for 40 minutes.
- When the octopus is cooked, remove from the water, drain and cut into pieces.
- Place in a large oven dish (earthenware if possible) with the cloves of garlic, bay leaf and cilantro and drizzle with olive oil.
- When the potatoes are cooked, shake off the excess salt, crush them very lightly with the fist, just to open them slightly, then place them around the octopus and sprinkle them generously with olive oil.
- Bake again for 15 minutes.
- Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.