The Octopus Experiment

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on March 27, 2011

Those who know me well know that I love seafood. I enjoy just about anything that comes out of our vast oceans, but the dishes that truly capture my interest are the ones made with squid and octopus. In addition to shrimp, these are two of the more challenging seafood items to cook correctly. The perfect texture for both squid and octopus combines an ethereal softness and chewiness at the same time, without it being mushy. It’s a tough combination to achieve, but I was up to the test and I was ready and willing to try my hand at it once more. Yes, I’ve tried this many times without much success but I’m not going to give up just yet. It’s a challenge, but one that I embrace until I get it right.

Cooking octopus correctly is something that I have done a great deal of research on for many years. Some proponents believe that the best way to achieve the perfect texture is cooking it on high temperature quickly and others believe in the low (temperature) and slow method over several hours. I have read about special tenderizers that people use, including juice from lemons, papaya, pineapple and other ideas such as overnight soaks in buttermilk and/or yogurt prior to cooking. Some people even believe that using a cork in the poaching liquid will guarantee the perfect tenderness, but before I try out the cork option, I wanted to try a few other flavorful alternatives.

Last week, I visited my favorite international market in Baltimore called Prima Foods and picked up a few  necessary items that I can’t find anywhere else, and you guessed it, octopus was definitely on the shopping list.  I decided it was time to put an end to my long suffering quest to find the secrets to a perfectly cooked octopus, and today was the day.

I followed a couple of hints that I picked up from others for the poaching liquid, and used 2 cups of chicken stock that I had on hand, some oregano, garlic, onion and a little salt. You can use seafood stock if you prefer, but this is what I had on hand. I also added a few black peppercorns, dried bay leaves and some lemon zest. Instead of cooking it slowly for several hours, I chose to use the pressure cooker — it’s a great asset in the kitchen and a tool that is very misunderstood and actually feared by many. These days, they are very well made and very easy to use and some are even programmable. Use them whenever you need to quickly cook tough pieces of meat in a flash for extraordinary results.

I can honestly say that the result was a perfectly textured and flavored. I simply dressed it with some lemony vinaigrette dressing, thinly sliced tomatoes and diced hydroponic cucumbers. Such an amazing, light and healthy salad that is perfect for anytime. Now that I know the secret, this is something I am going to make again and again, you can count on that.

Perfectly Tender Octopus
1-7# frozen octopus (mine was from Portugal)
2 cups seafood stock (I used chicken stock)
¼ Tablespoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon oregano
6 black peppercorns
1 medium onion, quartered
2 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 bay leaves

Lemony Vinaigrette Dressing
½ -¾ cup olive oil
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (or lime)
¼ teaspoon fresh lemon zest (or lime)
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon shallot, finely diced
S&P to taste (start with ¼ teaspoon of each)

Thaw the octopus in the refrigerator overnight and rinse very well under cold water. Make sure the inside of the head is rinsed out well of anything that may have been missed in the processing facility.

Add all of the stock and all of the aromatics, tighten the lid and turn your heat up to high until you see steam coming out from the top nozzle, then turn down the heat to medium/low, and cook for 10-15 minutes at the most. Steam will be spouting out from the top, and this is normal. If it is too loud or seems as though too much pressure has built up inside, turn your heat down a little.

Make sure to time this so as not to overcook. After the time is up, move the entire pressure cooker to the sink but DO NOT OPEN this yet. Let the cold water run on the side of the lid for a few minutes and when the steam is no longer visible through the spout, remove the lid but be careful because the inside is still very hot.

Allow this to cool uncovered for a few minutes in the poaching liquid, and then drain everything into a colander.

Once cool, cut off the legs and the head, and cut them into bite size pieces. You can remove the skin and the tentacles if you prefer beforehand. The skin on some of the larger ones tends to be too thick and gelatinous and almost has a ‘fatty’ texture in your mouth which is not appealing. Have your vinaigrette handy, and while the pieces are still slightly warm, pour the vinaigrette over the octopus and toss well. Allow to cool at room temperature, tossing everything together every now and then. Right before serving, toss in the freshly chopped parsley. It is important to serve this at room temperature for the best texture and flavor.  **Altogether, out of one 7 pound octopus, I got about 3 cups of diced meat.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar christo March 27, 2011 at 9:32 p

bravo! I think I will use the pressure cooker next time since I dont always have hours and hours to poach – I use the pressure cooker a lot but was reluctant with my precious octopus so I am glad you took the plunge.

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