Credit: Marcus K. Dowling

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Course of Action is a recurring monthly column by Marcus K. Dowling. He believes that behind every great meal, there’s an even better story. This column takes things one step further by exploring how a single dish (or course) can be representative of a chef’s background and culinary inspirations.

Restaurant: ANXO Cidery and Pintxos Bar, 300 Florida Ave. NW

Chef: Alex Vallcorba

Dish: Pulpo a la Gallega

Price: $18

The story: ANXO Cidery and Pintxos Bar’s Pulpo a la Gallega—a modest yet delicious grilled octopus and potato tapa—allows Executive Chef Alex Vallcorba to tell a story through food that highlights Spain’s Galician cuisine and Basque cooking culture. To prepare it, Vallcorba grills slices of tentacle meat along with thick slices of boiled potato on the plancha.

A native of Barcelona, the chef spent much of his childhood and formative years in the kitchen in Spain’s northern regions. Pulpo a la Gallega has origins on Spain’s northwest coast. However, it was Vallcorba’s time in the Basque country—known for its love of grilling—where his introduction to the dish and its simple preparation, developed. “When I worked at Asador Etxebarri, I learned a lot about it,” Vallcorba says. The restaurant is consistently named one of the best in the world. 

“The national name of [pulpo a la Gallega] is pulpo a feira,” Vallcorba continues, “which means that it is a dish served at street festivals throughout Spain.” It combines octopus, potatoes, sea salt, olive oil, and pimentón (paprika). Pimentón was initially used as a preservative in Spain, similar to salt. 

Unlike its traditional preparation in copper pots filled with boiling water, ANXO’s variation of the Spanish dish seeks to highlight its identity as a cidery. Vallcorba imports frozen octopus directly from Galicia, defrosts it, then dunks it in boiling water three times to shock the skin to prevent it from separating from the meat.

From there, he simmers it in ANXO’s Cidre Blanc, a bay leaf, an onion, potatoes, and a whole lemon for 45 minutes. When he determines it’s ready using a toothpick test, he cools it in the refrigerator. Finally, Vallcorba grills the octopus before serving it to diners. 

Two things stand out when you try the dish at ANXO. The lemon, onion, and Cidre Blanc successfully impart flavor to the octopus so it doesn’t taste bland. The paprika and sea salt seasoning, plus the high quality olive oil, combine to engage with taste buds and create a hearty flavor profile that demands another forkful.