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Oct 4, 2013 10:03 AM

Octopus quest

I read the main octopus threads on this site and tried cooking one for the first time this last week. It was a rubbery failure, but I'm going to keep at this some more.

A first point to make is that I'm not sure I've ever encountered an ingredient with more variety and mystery in the lore about how to make it tasty.

I followed a recipe from one of the threads, from a restaurant that poaches the octopus 20 minutes in red wine vinegar and then marinates it for three days in a vinaigrette before a quick (few minutes) grilling. The fellow in the video for that recipe said that his octopi came from Spain and were "prepped" there, but I also read threads that tell of freezing itself as a sufficient tenderizing element for octopus. Given that mine was from frozen, I didn't do any of the pounding, bashing, smashing, etc., recommended by many cooks.

So now I'm posing two questions:

1. Any ideas about how to go with the next one? I'm thinking some smashing with a mallet.

2. What the heck are the little round things, sized rather like Israeli cous-cous, on my plate? I'll attach some pictures.

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  1. The round things are the suckers from the tentacles. They easily fall off after the octopus has cooked.

    I totally agree with you regarding the mystery around cooking it as well as all the “old wives” tips for cooking. Some of the ones I have heard: Cook it with a wine cork, with an onion, only cook Spanish/Portuguese Octopus, etc.

    The closest we have come to an edible octopus, and this was our 4th attempt, was cooking it overnight in the slow cooker. We then following the recipe in the cookbook "How to Roast a Lamb" for the most part. However, it was a 4 pound Portuguese octopus that shrunk to 1/6th of its original size bringing tears to my husband’s eyes. The consensus was that it doesn’t need to cook that long so next time we will only cook it for 4 hours. I was just glad it was edible . . . finally!

    1. I too was bamboozled by the myriad opinions on cooking octopus.

      I found this article to be very helpful.

      I recently cooked a two pounder and a seven pounder and I have had good success by using the following method:

      Brining in a salt solution for a couple of hours.

      Plunging the octopus into boiling water for about 15 seconds

      Turning the heat down immediately to 185 degrees – just below a simmer (add a couple tablespoons of cold water to the pot to reduce the heat). I did not cover the pot so that I could keep an eye on the water temp.

      The time needed to tenderize will rely on the size and, I guess, age of the octopus.

      But, I think that you should begin checking for tenderness after 45 minutes.

      At this point you can follow any recipe you like. I make a marinade / dressing with lemon / olive oil / parsley / salt and pepper and brush them all over then I grill them until crispy edges appear then again dress them with lemon / garlic / parsley etc. or just cut them into chunks and dress them.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Unkle Al

        My one and only time cooking an octopus I used Mcgee's method with excellent results.

        1. re: Unkle Al

          I cooked my first one recently! I too read the billions of recipes out there and ended up going with pretty much the same idea. Brought a giant pot of water to boil. Stuck in the octopus then left it at a bare simmer for about an hour. Afterwards I just used it how I liked. Part of it went into a tomato based stew and the other into takoyaki. Both went well.

        2. 20 minutes? Not nearly long enough which is why it was tough. Overnight cooking is too much as cooking too long also makes it tough. I first tried octopus after reading the minimalist's column in the NYT several years ago. Need to cook until tender but stop there.

          here's the link

          1. Freezing makes no difference, and 20 minutes is too short, unless its octopus for sashimi. Cook it at least 45 minutes, better an hour...but don't cook it too long or it will get soft. I'd rather have tough chewy octopus than soft octopus, but the best is a balance between tenderness and chewiness.

            1. If I remember correctly, you also started another post about vinegar substitutions where you needed red wine vinegar bit didn't have enough. You really needed to use the full amount of RWV that the recipe called for. It was a tenderizer, not a flavoring agent. The acidity of the RWV is what helps tenderize the octopus.

              2 Replies
              1. re: boogiebaby

                I appreciate your awareness of the other post!

                I can't yet agree about the acid issue, because I did try to duplicate the ph. level with other vinegars (white, champagne, etc) but it was indeed a bit lower, because I used some rice wine vinegar. But that stage was also only for the initial 20 minutes of poaching. Could that really be so decisive?

                Compared to the video recipe I followed, the biggest difference seems to me most likely to be another point that the chef indicated: his octopus comes from Spain already "prepped," and he says that the restaurant itself therefore doesn't need to do more with the octopus prior to the procedure. I am pretty sure that the stuff arrives to him already pounded out a bit.

                Anyway, I wil keep experimenting and report when useful.

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  The secret has got to be in a lengthly tenderizing marinade, and/ or boiling for some time. I have pounded them mercilessly, including fresh ones in Mexico, and failed every time. I'm having to make do with the canned stuff from Goya and La Tienda, but I would sure like to grill it tender with a dry rub. Mysterious critters indeed.