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Octopus success a' la Harold McGee

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While in South Beach I had a delicious octopus dish at Sardinia. Since then I have searched articles on the preparation of this cephalopod. My previous experience with the octopus had been in sushi restaurants where I found the flesh a bit chewy and a little crunchy. Chewy I can handle. Crunchy, well I haven't acquired a taste as of yet. You know us Americans are all put off by texture. I read many recipes from the internet and had also read an article by Mark Bittman and then Harold McGee on how to prepare a tender octopus. Having read Harold reference book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, I felt his advise was most trusted.

So I was in my local Asian market and they had sushi grade octopus which got me curious and inspired me to give it a try. The octopus at the Asian market was quite expensive and I did pick some up to eat raw, I keep trying, but headed to a local grocery store where I had remembered they sold frozen octopus. I picked up a package that contained 4 sections each with a little body and three arms attached and allowed it to thaw in the fridge.

Per McGee, the best results are had when dry cooking the octopus in a pot in the oven with a tight lid. He also found that long simmering made for a tender octopus that lacked flavor.

He instructs to first blanch the meat for 30 seconds in boiling water. I did this in salted water as his instruction did not specify. The octopus went into a dutch oven with no liquid or seasonings. He suggest baking low and slow @ 200* for 4-5 hours and allowing it to cool in it's own juices, which were abundant. At 3 1/2 hours I took a sample to check for tenderness. Fairly tender but at 4 hours it was very tender. McGee suggest that the liquid be reduced to concentrate the flavors and the collagen from the skin helps to make a nice thick sauce. I had the meat on a plate and coated with olive oil and placed it on the hot out door gas grill which had wood smoking. It was grilled for a short time. Just enough time to pick up some grill/smoke flavor. It was served simply on the sauce and with some very good EVOO. I have to say it exceeded my expectations. Very tender and flavorful.

So if you have ever fretted over making octopus and have had less than expected results give this a try.

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  1. What would you have done if you didn't have a grill? Throw in some salt / herb / garlic / tomato at 3.5 hours and reduce the sauce as directed at 4 hours?
    or maybe saute some tasty bits in oil and add the juice to that at 4 hours?
    or just broil the octopus in the oven?
    Because I don't have the grill, and would prefer not to invest the time for a tasteless but tender cephalopod.
    I will take the recommendation for McGee's book, though.

    2 Replies
    1. re: shahkbhaji

      The grill was used just to get some smoke and grill flavor. The octopus was quite tender and flavorful before going on the grill. McGee found that simmering did in fact produce a tender octopus but it lacked flavor. I was just watching After Hours with Daniel Boulud at Lido. They did an octopus that was simmered on the stove top. Everyone commented on the tenderness and taste. Not sure what liquid they cooked it in.

      1. I was thinking about this the other day, and was curious if perhaps sous vide would be better? Follow the blanching but then cook it sous vide at about 190 for 5 hours or so, and then flash cool it. I might just have to try it.

        2 Replies
        1. re: vanillagorilla

          SV could help to infuse some flavors into the octopus. I'd love to hear your report on SV octopus.

          1. re: scubadoo97

            I will let you know. I am sous vide ing one over the next two day

        2. Thanks for sharing your cooking experience with this delicious creature.

          My local big supermarket regularly has whole octopii for not much moola, hopefully I can get the fishmonger there to remove the head, and I do want to give McGee's method a try. I don't have a outdoor grill but maybe a CI grill pan would give it some crustiness, or maybe I'll roast it briefly with garlic in olive oil, after the initial cooking.

          Without knowing for sure, I suspect Daniel Boulud used a well seasoned court bouillon for his octopus. That's what I've done when cooking it by the simmer til tender method, certainly not just in salted water.