My adventure getting over my fear of cooking octopus. It turned out delicious and wasn’t as difficult as I thought.
I love octopus. During our last trip to the Yucatan in Mexico, I ate octopus almost every day. The two entrees I had with octopus as a main course were some of the best dinners I’d ever had. But I’d never tried to cook it at home. I have a memory of my mother’s attempt at cooking octopus when I was a kid. She didn’t really know what to do with it, so she cut the legs off and baked it in the oven. The result was the equivalent of chewing on a rubber tire, and we all ate TV dinners instead.
I asked our waiter at Kitchen Table in Tulum how my amazingly delicious octopus was prepared, and he said the trick to cooking octopus was to boil it for a very long time prior to finishing it in a saute pan or grill or however you plan to prepare it. Boil it PAST the rubber tire stage to edible perfection.
This last New Years Eve, we were inviting a few food-loving friends over for dinner and drinks, and I decided I was going to do it. I was going to cook a goddamn octopus.
But first, extensive research. I looked up some Spanish octopus recipes (Pulpo a la Gallega), and watched a couple YouTube videos. I learned that in addition to boiling the octopus for an hour, you need to tenderize it by freezing it and thawing it first.
This video of Eric Ripert cooking Spanish octopus was my main inspiration:
I procured my octopus at Uwajimaya in Seattle, the large Asian grocery store in the International District. Uwajimaya is a great place to go for all kinds of fresh seafood.
I found my octopus in the frozen section, which saved me the step of freezing it. It came in a solid square block. I tried thawing it for a day in the fridge, but ended up taking it out and leaving it on the counter for several hours the following day after fridge thawing yielded slow results.
Finally, my slimy, gelatinous blob of octopus was ready to cook.
Paddy is convinced that octopuses are not of this planet, that they came here from somewhere else.
I put my octopus in a large pot of water with some chopped celery, onion, several cloves of garlic cut in half, chopped parsley, and some paprika. Several of the recipes and videos advised to “shock” (or “frighten,” as one Spanish chef called it) the octopus by dunking it in the boiling pot for 10 seconds and pulling it back out for 10 seconds three times before submerging it for an hour-long boil.
From my understanding, the point of “shocking” the octopus before boiling is to help the tentacles curl up nicely.
After an hour, I pulled the octopus out and put it in a bowl with a lid to keep it hot while I boiled some red potatoes in the octopus broth, adding a generous dash of kosher salt. I boiled the potatoes until they were almost done, and then pulled them out and sliced them.
I then cut up the octopus, cutting the tentacles in long pieces, and then slicing the rest of the leg meat up to the head. I saw videos on how to remove the head and beak prior to cooking, but it didn’t really seem necessary since it was going to get cut up anyway. I discarded the head and beak area, using as much of the leg meat as possible.
I finished the octopus pieces in a pan with more onions and garlic, some high-quality Spanish olive oil, salt, and a mix of sweet Spanish paprika and smoked paprika. I then fried my potatoes in the same pan with the same ingredients.
I finished my “pulpo a la gallega” by arranging the sliced potatoes on a serving platter, and sprinkling with a little more paprika and drizzling with a little more Spanish olive oil. I then arranged the tentacles and leg meat slices on top of the potatoes with more olive oil, a pinch of salt, and more chopped parsley.
It turned out fabulous. The octopus was flavorful and tender, and was a nice compliment to the potatoes.
If I had to improve on this dish next time, I would add a tiny bit of salt to the octopus broth while boiling it (I saw one recipe say not to add salt, but I wasn’t sure why). Also, I would be a little more heavy handed with the olive oil, and use fingerling potatoes instead of red potatoes. (Fingerlings weren’t available at Uwajimaya when I was shopping, and I was too lazy to go to a different grocery store). A squeeze of lemon might be a nice touch. I noticed that Eric Ripert added ham to his broth while boiling it. I was concerned that this might overpower the flavor of the octopus, but I am curious to try it next time.
I am over my fear of cooking octopus, and am excited to try it again this summer and finish it on the grill to get a nice charred flavor. Octopus is delicious and not as intimidating as it looks. Easier than roasting a chicken.