Beyond the Basics

How to Cook Octopus

By • September 9, 2013 • 24 Comments

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Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef Camille Becerra will go beyond the basics to help you tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.

Today: Never make tough, chewy octopus again.

Octopus

For so long, there has been a lot of mystique surrounding the preparation of octopus. Everyone seems to only know how tough and chewy it can turn out, so they never have the courage to fit it into their repertoire. The truth of the matter is that it's truly one of the easiest types of fish to cook. Fish cookery in general is daunting, as there is a very small window in which it can go from perfectly cooked to overcooked. But octopus is different -- it is literally foolproof. 

Another technique you shouldn't be afraid of: Breaking down a whole fish.

The process involves braising it over medium heat for 1 1/2 hours in a flavorful broth and then searing it until it develops a crunchy exterior. Adding a penny to the broth is a trick I picked up from the great Spanish chef Jose Andrés: He states that in the olden times, octopus was made in copper pots because the chemical reaction of the octopus and the copper gives the octopus a gorgeous reddish color when it is seared on the outside.

Here's how to do it:

Wash your octopus well and pat dry with a paper towel.

Octopus

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan, then add oil and aromatics. I use lemon slices, whole garlic, quartered onion, whole peppercorns, chili, thyme, and basil. I like to start with the lemon and brown it a bit, as this intensifies the citrus flavor. Add the onion and garlic, then lower the heat. Add the spices and salt.

Another way to prepare your favorite cephalopod: Mediterranean Octopus Salad

Deglaze with 1 cup of white wine. Add enough additional liquid to just barely cover the octopus -- about 3 to 4 cups. Once the water comes to a boil, drop in a clean penny and a good couple pinches of salt. 

Octopus

Drop the octopus in carefully, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Octopus  

When your time is up, remove the octopus from the poaching liquid. When it's cool enough to handle, cut off the tentacles from the body.  

Octopus

Get a pan piping hot with safflower or other neutral oil, and sear the octopus pieces on all sides. I like to serve mine with Red Pepper Aioli.

Octopus on Food52

Photos by Tara Sgroi

Tags: techniques, octopus, seafood, how to, camille becerra, tara sgroi, how-to & diy

Comments (24)

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5 days ago sgseidler

I would like to find a chef in manhattan who will go to a home and teach my friend how to make octopus. I want to do this as a gift to her. Can anyone give me help in finding such a teacher?

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24 days ago CheffieEmily

I just spent 10 days studying abroad, in Spain as part of my culinary degree. What a cool experience. Anyway, a lot of tapas bars have octopus and they just serve it with a little salt and olive oil. The texture is like lobster.I asked our kick ass tour guide, Roger how they do it. They basically buy it frozen, or freeze the fresh stuff and blanch it. Then saute it. Anyway, it makes my heart smile to know people are beginning to embrace the lovely creature

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24 days ago CheffieEmily

To clarify. defrost it, then blanch for about 15 seconds, withdraw and let it come to a boil again. Repeat. Now allow it to cook for about 90 minutes. Tapas bars rock

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15 days ago Billy

I saw this method of blanching mentioned in a Spanish cookbook recently too, but it doesn't really make sense to me. If you're going to simmer/boil it for 90 min anyway, what could blanching it twice for 15-30 sec. do? Would be curious to ask a food scientist?

Stringio

2 months ago Anthony Artese

When I seared mine they started exploding! How do you avoid that? It was quite dangerous! They turned out tender and tasty though.

Stringio

5 months ago Hrvoje Golcic

Hello! I'm from Croatia in Mediterranean. I catch and prepare octopus by myself for few years already. I'd like to share with you 100% working trick to make octopus incredibly soft. Not many people knows about this, even locals, I discovered it after hundreds of prepared octopuses.
Yes, freezing and cooking octopus is fine, but the real trick is to use meat tenderizer for tenderizing octopus meat. You need to beat its body until it get soft, sometimes even 5min when your hand falls off :P I use a rock and doing it on the beach when I catch it there.
You have never tried so soft octopus, you can cut it with fork easily, doesn't even require to be cooked that long anymore. By the way, you can cook octopus in the empty bowl with no water at all, just make sure to use minimum fire. It will release a solid amount of water by it selves.

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7 months ago Awonderer

I am fascinated by this recipe and am going to try it this weekend. What is hard to determine is how big the octopusses (octopii?) are you are using given the close-ups don't have much reference. The one you are braising looks much bigger an the one you are snipping? Are they different sizes or do they shrink? Also, I don't see the head in any of your pictures. Do you not eat that as well?

Thanks!

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7 months ago kat3029

You left off some important steps! Freeze the octopus and then defrost it again before you cook it. After you bring your liquid to a boil, hold the octopus and dip it into the pot for 30 seconds. Withdraw the octopus, let the liquid boil again, and then plunge the octopus back in for another thirty seconds. Repeat one more time before letting the octopus cook for 90min. They do it this way in Spain because this process helps the connective tissues break down and ensures the meat is tender.

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7 months ago dymnyno

I think that freezing the octopus tenderizes it...much easier that beating it against rocks!

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7 months ago Camille Becerra

As the saying goes... "There are more than one way to skin a cat". Whatever works best for you. ;) happy cooking!

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24 days ago CheffieEmily

I just spent 10 days in Spain and I had to ask our tour guide how they do it and that is exactly it. It's like the texture of lobster

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7 months ago lloreen

I just want to make the kind of octopus they serve in my favorite little restaurant in Madrid....tender, bathed in olive oil and dusted with paprika, with a bed of sizzling hot potatoes. Delicious!

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7 months ago kat3029

The octopus you had in Madrid is a Galician dish called Pulpo Gallego. My comment (just above yours on this page) tells you how it's made.

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7 months ago Nancy Mck

If I had ever, for even a brief moment, been tempted to eat octopus, these photographs would have set me straight.

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7 months ago dymnyno

I always order octopus when I see it on a menu. I have a different delicious recipe that the owner of Black Olive in Baltimore gave me which is the same as the recipe they serve at his brother's restaurant in NYC, Milos.

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15 days ago Billy

would you mind sharing? I'm Greek and the traditional preparation is just plain grilling or boiling, then adding lemon and olive oil. I'm sure the guys at those places have some creative ideas though.

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7 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Senior Editor of Food52

I love octopus! But it's one of those things that I always order at restaurants instead of trusting myself to cook it -- I'm so grateful for this primer. Where do you source your octopi, Camille?

Me

7 months ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Associate Editor of Food52.

Same! Having tried and failed, I'm pretty scared of it. I've gotten some good octopi at Chelsea Market -- but maybe there's a closer Brooklyn source?

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7 months ago Camille Becerra

I also get it from Chelsea Market's fish shop The Lobster Place at times and also the fish markets located on Canal Street around Baxter and Mott Streets in Chinatown. Prepare to see it come frozen most times, in which case it will take a day to defrost in your refrigerator.

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7 months ago Camille Becerra

unsure about Brooklyn, although if you contact your local fishmonger they can surely get it given they have enough time in advance.

Me

7 months ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Associate Editor of Food52.

Thanks Camille!

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7 months ago KarenT

Sorry but eating an octupus would be like eating my dog.

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7 months ago AniQuadros

I know Karen T, I am with you...it breaks my heart.

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7 months ago muse2323

Yeah, knowing how smart they are makes them far less appealing as a food choice for me.