Whilst under Shogunate rule during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, trade and interaction with the outside world was tightly restricted, borders were sealed and Japan effectively became a closed country. A closed country that is, except for the port of Nagasaki on the western coast of Kyūshū, a bustling hub for the importing and exporting of produce, people and ideas. Much of the trade through Nagasaki was conducted with the Portuguese who were expanding their empire from Lisbon via the coasts of Africa, the Middle East and Goa. These Nanban- Southern Barbarians- brought with them the Christian church, the technology to make firearms, foods like peppers, chillies and vinegar, and new cooking techniques such as deep frying in breadcrumbs and batter, all of which were assimilated quickly by the locals. One of Portugal’s most popular methods of preserving fish for long journeys- escabeche, proved to be a huge success when tasted by the Japanese and has remained a favourite ever since. Literally meaning ‘pickled in the southern barbarian style’, nanbanzuke normally refers to whole fried fish or fillets soused in a vinegary sauce with vegetables, but we’ve enjoyed it many times with octopus- another staple of the travelling Europeans.
In our version of nanbanzuke we poach a whole octopus until tender, then marinade it with a selection of crunchy vegetables in a mixture of fish stock and rice vinegar with plenty of spicy red chilli and ginger to add some fieriness. Served at room temperature, nanbanzuke makes a wonderful addition to a picnic lunch, or when chilled it’s the perfect dish to serve in the summer when all you want to eat is something cooling, light and refreshing.
- 1.5kg cleaned octopus
- 200g sweet, mild onion
- 100g carrots
- 50g green pepper
- 1 large red chilli
- 15g ginger
- 3 limes
- 300ml dashi broth
- 200ml rice vinegar
- 150ml soy sauce
- 100g sugar
- fine sea salt
- dried chilli threads or flakes to garnish
- Place the octopus in a large saucepan with enough cold water to completely cover it. Add a tablespoon of sea salt to the water, then put the pan over a medium heat and slowly bring to the boil; when the water is boiling, turn the heat down and gently simmer the octopus for forty-five minutes to an hour, until it is tender. Skim off and discard any foam forms on the surface of the water while simmering.
- Whilst the octopus is cooking, prepare the marinade; pour the dashi, vinegar, soy sauce, the juice of two limes, sugar and a pinch of salt into a saucepan then slowly bring to a simmer over a low heat. When all of the sugar has dissolved into the liquid, take the pan off the heat and set to one side until needed. Use either a mandoline or a very sharp knife to julienne the carrots, onion, green pepper and ginger, then cut the red chilli and remaining lime into thin discs.
- When the octopus is fully cooked, drain the water away and let the the octopus cool just enough so you can handle it without scalding yourself. Separate each of the legs from the body and cut them into bite-sized pieces; do the same with the head but be sure to remove any of the beak that might still be attached. Transfer the still-warm octopus pieces to the marinade mixture along with the sliced vegetables, chilli and ginger, then leave it to cool fully.
- After the nanbanzuke has marinaded for at least an hour it is ready to serve, but it reaches optimal flavour after resting overnight in the fridge. To serve the tako no nanbanzuke, lift a tangle of the vegetables into a shallow bowl, top this nest with a pile of pickled octopus, a spoon or two of the vinegary marinade and a sprinkle of dried chilli to finish.
Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as an appetiser or as part of a traditional multi-dish meal.