There’s a restaurant near my place that has very good octopus. They have other stuff too since technically they’re a tapas bar. So they have little sausages, papas bravas, grilled padrón peppers, all that good stuff. They have other seafood too: razor clams, mussels, cockles from the tin. And they have cheap beer, sangria and clarita (beer + lemon lime soda) on tap. But they’re primarily a “pulperia,” which means that octopus reigns supreme and a heaping pile of whole boiled pulpo does indeed adorn the bar. I passed Bar Celta a few times on my way towards the harbor and when I had friends visiting a few weeks ago I decided to go with them for brunch. Beer and pulpo. We didn’t get anything else.
In Barcelona octopus is Pulpo a la Gallega (or “Galician octopus”), Galicia’s “national” dish. The octopus is frozen whole then boiled and snipped with scissors into bite-sized pieces. These are served on a wooden plate lain atop a bed of boiled and sliced potatoes. The surface is drizzled with good olive oil, sprinkled with paprika and sea salt. The correct way to attack the dish is to pinch a piece of octopus together with the potato underneath in each bite. Wash down with a swig of beer or red wine from a porron set beside. It’s a beloved dish but one that varies immensely with the quality of the octopus and oil, along with the attention paid to seasoning.
Bar Celta does it right. The pulpo is beautifully vibrant in color, with its bright purple skin and milky white flesh inside. The meat is cooked perfectly. Some tentacles remain bumpy and just chewy enough not to give the jaw too much of a workout. The thicker pieces of white octopus meat are wonderfully creamy and tender; the perfect contrast to the hearty slices of potato underneath. They’re slippery smooth and fatty, melting on the tongue sensually. Memories of chewy, dry octopus and calamari quickly fade with each bite. The octopus is also a wonderful canvas for the seasoning sprinkled on. As the seafood offers more in terms of texture than flavor the smoky paprika and fragrant, clean olive oil really shine through. The portion is quite large, enough for two or three. It’s the perfect snack to share among good company on a warm spring day with a crispy cool glass of Galician white.