RECIPE: Matt McConnell's Portuguese pork and octopus rice

Matt McConnell's Portuguese pork and octopus rice. Photography: Mark Roper

Chef Matt McConnell has teamed up with his Bar Lourinhã partner Jo Gamvros to release the new cookbook, Eat At The Bar. Filled with recipes inspired by their travels through Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece, the book includes the dish Portuguese pork and octopus rice.

MATT MCCONNELL'S PORTUGUESE PORK AND OCTOPUS RICE
SERVES 6

We ate this in a town somewhere between Lisbon and Porto on our first trip in 2005. The thing we loved about it was the baked rice – a common thread in Portuguese food, as we found out later. We’ve never been shy about mixing bold-flavoured seafood with big-flavoured meat, so this was our kind of dish. To get the ultimate flavour, we reserve all the cooking juices from the twice-cooked octopus (below) and use that when cooking the rice.

60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) olive oil
1 onion, roughly diced
½ tablespoon sliced garlic
1 dried bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons pimentón
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
250 g (9 oz) pork neck, diced
250 g (9 oz) bomba rice
250 ml (8½ fl oz/1 cup) tomato juice
2 litres (68 fl oz/8 cups) chicken stock
750 g (1 lb 11 oz) twice-cooked Octopus, chopped (see below)
1 tablespoon picked lemon thyme, to garnish
grated zest of 1 lemon, to garnish
12 slices finely sliced Lardo (cured pork fat), to serve
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
2 teaspoons chilli flakes, to serve
sea salt flakes

METHOD

  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and gently sweat the onion with the garlic, bay leaf and some salt and pepper.
  • When the onions begin to soften, add the pimentón, cinnamon, allspice and diced pork and fry for about 10 minutes over a medium heat until the pork is par-cooked.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
  • Add the rice and stir well, then add the tomato juice and stock and bring to the boil. Cook until the rice just starts to soften, then remove from the heat. Add the chopped octopus and leave to cool completely to allow the rice to absorb the rest of the liquid.
  • Divide the rice mixture between six individual serving dishes and flatten with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 12–15 minutes, or until a crust forms on top and the rice is hot.
  • Serve immediately, garnished with lemon thyme, lemon zest, finely sliced lardo, a drizzle of olive oil, some chilli flakes and salt.

NOTE: Reserve the cooking juices from the twice-cooked octopus for this recipe. Add the octopus cooking juices with the tomato juice and stock, and bring to the boil.

 

MATT MCCONNELL'S TWICE-COOKED OCTOPUS

SERVES 6

We first tried this in Sakkouleika, the hillside village on Samos where Jo’s family comes from. The family was making ouzo and souma in the family still that’s heated with coal and wood. There was a grill outside – basically an iron box – that they shovelled coals from the still into. The village priest appeared out of nowhere with two foil-wrapped parcels containing whole octopus, lemon, garlic, wild herbs and salt that he threw on the grill. It’s known in the village that the priest always brings the best octopus, so everybody was happy he’d showed up. The foil quickly puffed up like a balloon with the steam and then the priest removed the foil and threw the octopus directly onto the grill. The octopus is already tenderised with the lemon and salt, but with the steaming and grilling it gets ridiculously soft and juicy. We drank a lot of souma, so it’s surprising we remembered the recipe.

2 kg (4 lb 6 oz) octopus (the larger the better)
olive oil, for rubbing and drizzling
sea salt flakes and lemon cheeks, to serve 

MARINADE
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
2 lemons, juiced and sliced
1 small onion, roughly sliced
½ bunch thyme stalks
250 ml (8½ fl oz/1 cup)
dry white wine

METHOD 

  • Start the octopus a day ahead. Remove the head (if still attached) and the tentacles from one another. Place the octopus in a plastic container with all the marinade ingredients, cover and refrigerate overnight.

  • In the morning, or 1 hour before serving, create a foil parcel by layering three large sheets of foil on a bench with a small amount of oil between each layer to stick them together. Place the octopus and its marinade on the bottom half of the foil and fold over the top half, being careful not to lose any of the juices. Tightly press and twist the edges together to secure (similar to closing pastry on a pie).

  • Make sure the parcel is watertight, then place it on a scorching hot barbecue chargrill plate for 1 hour. When it balloons up (after roughly 5 minutes), lower the heat and continue cooking until the hour is up.

  • Remove the octopus from the foil, discarding the marinade. Turn the grill back to high, lightly rub the octopus tentacles with oil and grill for 2–3 minutes on each side, or until nicely charred.

  • Serve on a platter with sprigs of oregano, a pinch of sea salt and lemon cheeks. Drizzle with a splash of olive oil.

This is an edited extract from Eat At The Bar by Matt McConnell with Jo Gamvros published by Hardie Grant Books RRP $50 AU and is available in stores nationally from October 15, 2018.