…at least in the parts of the world where I’ve eaten. Having lived in Spain and Portugal for the last few years, we’ve had a lot of amazing pulpo (octopus). Arguably some of the best in the world. We are thrilled to find that the pulpo in the restaurants of San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City has been as good as anything we had from the Iberian Peninsula.
When we arrived in Mexico City, we wanted our first meal to be traditional Mexican to really get us into the mood of the place. We had dinner at La Soldadera, a restaurant located across from the Monumento a la Revolucion that specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine. Among the classic dishes on the menu, we were surprised to see Pulpo a la Gallega, a reminder of the Spanish heritage influence in Mexican food. Having recently spent time in Galicia, Spain eating lots of pulpo, we were very curious to see how La Soldadera’s preparation compared.
The Pulpo a la Gallega came out as a whole octopus seasoned with paprika, olive oil, and sea salt; surrounded by slices of potato cooked in oil. While the seasonings were essentially the same as in Galicia, this pulpo had a little kick. I would swear that they snuck some chili pepper in there somewhere, or perhaps just a spicier paprika. The meat itself was so tender that you could slide your fork through it.
This rivaled the pulpo we had in Spain, or Portugal, or really anywhere that we’ve eaten octopus. I realized that I knew very little about octopus in Mexico. With a little research, this is what I learned…
Mexico is now the world’s third largest producer of octopus with most of it coming from the Gulf of Mexico in the Yucatan Peninsula. Seventy percent (70%) of the catch is sent to European markets including Greece, Italy, France, and even Spain. The popularity of octopus in Galicia is so high, that local catches can’t meet the demand, forcing them to import octopus from other countries. It is quite possible that the octopus we were enjoying in Spain actually came from Mexico.
Two species of octopus come from the Yucatan Peninsula. Octopus vulgaris, the common octopus, is the same as that found in the Mediterranean and worldwide. Octopus maya, also called the Mexican four-eyed octopus or Red octopus, is unique and native to the Gulf of Mexico and accounts for 80% of the octopus caught in the Yucatan. The Yucatan Peninsula state governments of Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan are seeking denomination of origin status to provide international recognition and protection to their native octopus.
Personal experience has taught us that cooking octopus is a tricky thing to master. Transforming those meaty tentacles into tender chewable morsels has been an ongoing project of ours. For those that have it figured out, octopus is very versatile. It can be boiled or roasted, finished on the grill or braised on the stovetop.
Chefs all over San Miguel de Allende have it figured out, setting us off on a pulpo quest. Pulpo graces the menus of restaurants all over town; something that we didn’t expect so far away from the coast. We have found delicious, tender pulpo in many forms: grilled whole tentacles, chopped into tacos, topping tostadas, and chilled in ceviches. And we didn’t really have to try that hard! Here are some of our favorites…so far:
At Bovine Brasserie at Canal 16 in Centro, Australian chef Paul Bentley grills the pulpo and drapes the whole tentacles over a creamy chickpea puree. The pulpo is a good combination of tender meat inside with a little caramelized chewiness to the outside. Fried chickpeas scattered around the plate add a crunchy element to the textures of the dish.
Taco Lab, located inside of Doce 18 Concept House, is a collaboration between San Miguel de Allende chef Donnie Masterton and California restaurateur Joe Hargrave. Their charred pulpo taco is a delicious handful. Soft chunks of pulpo are enveloped in a warm tortilla with melted jack cheese, topped with slices of avocado and crumbles of chopped peanuts with chili de arbol. It is our favorite of all the tacos we’ve tried at Taco Lab, and they are all pretty great.
On what is considered by some to be one of the best rooftops in the world, Chef Gonzalo Martínez of Quince has a more contemporary take on Mexican cuisine. You can find pulpo tostadas all over town, but not all tostadas are this ornate. The Tostada de pulpo a la parrilla (chargrilled octopus tostada) is loaded with fried slices of pulpo and roasted tomatoes on a crunchy tostada spread with black beans, habanero mayo and dollops of avocado mousse. This version of octopus was chewier than we typically like but the intense flavors produced more than made up for the texture. Not too spicy, the dish had a warm, subtle heat that was nice with a glass of Mexican rosado wine.
Outside of Centro at Marios Mariscos estilo Mazatlan, we found pulpo heaven. Mario does pulpo in at least eight different ways. He tosses it in ceviches and cocktails, wraps it in tacos and burritos, and puts it on tostadas to name a few. We like the classic pulpo ceviche, in which the pulpo is a perfect al dente combination of crisp and tender, seasoned with lime, tomatoes, onions, cucumber and cilantro. We fully intend to go back and try the many other versions of pulpo and other fresh seafood at Mario’s.
We’ve only been in San Miguel for about a month and there are so many more pulpo dishes to try. Have we missed your favorite? Let me know in the comments!