Getting back into cooking since 2009.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Slow-braised octopus

When it's cooked well, octopus is meaty and savoury and briny. When it's cooked poorly, it's rubbery and fibrous and unappetising. 

I've stumbled across a technique for cooking octopus that results in perfectly tender tentacles with a lot of that deep-sea flavour. Result: this is going to be the summer of octopus. I got the technique from a column by Harold McGee, the author of the legendary On Food and Cooking. 

Basically this method just involves slowly cooking the octopus in its own delicious juices for 4 or 5 hours. Warning: your house will be filled with a strong octopus smell after the first hour or so of cooking. It's not unpleasant, but it is quite strong.

Slow-braised octopus, McGee style
Whole adult octopus or octopuses.
1) Preheat your oven to 95c, and bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

2) Cut the tentacles away from the body of the octopus. Discard the body. 

3) Once your water is at a rolling boil, blanch the tentacles for 30 seconds. Do this in a few batches, so that the temperature doesn't drop too much.

4) Remove the tentacles from the blanching water with a slotted spoon or a pasta spoon, and place in a pot with a tight-fitting lid that can go in the oven. I use an enameled cast iron casserole. Don't add anything else to the pot, not even salt (otherwise it will get too salty as the natural 'sauce' reduces).

5) Place your covered pot of blanched tentacles in the pre-heated oven and cook for 4-5 hours, until very tender. 

6) Allow the tentacles to cool in their liquid.  

That's it! You've now got beautifully tender, yet still meaty, octopus tentacles. You can just season these and serve them warm, or allow them to cool completely and serve them in a salad. McGee suggests straining and reducing the braising liquid and serving the tentacles with this natural sauce.
I like to allow them to cool, cut them into chunks and then dress them like a salad. You can then either serve the tentacle pieces as a salad, or as part of an antipasto platter, or thread them on the skewers and quickly barbeque them. The BBQ method is probably my favourite.
Barbequed octopus skewers 
-Two octopuses, prepared as per the recipe above and allowed to cool to room temperature
-Juice of one lemon  
-Handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped  
-Good quality extra virgin olive oil
-One long red chilli, chopped (deseeded if you must)
-Red wine vinegar (optional)
-Sea salt
1) Add the olive oil to the lemon juice, roughly 2 parts olive oil to one part lemon juice. Stir vigorously until emulsified. This is a bit more acidic than a standard vinaigrette, but the octopus benefits from aggressive seasoning. I like to add a dash of red wine vinegar too, but you don't have to.

2) Pour the vinaigrette over the octopus, adding the mint and chilli and a few generous pinches of sea salt.

3) Toss well, then taste to check your seasoning.

4) Thread onto skewers.

5) Heat on a hot BBQ or pan for about 30-60 seconds, just enough to slightly crisp the outside and warm the tentacle pieces through.

6) Pour over any left over dressing.

Like I said, this is going to be the summer of octopus.


  1. I think I just died.. this looks so so so amazing!

  2. I've just read your entire back catalogue of blog entries for the year instead of working. I really like your blog (where "really like" probably isn't an adequate description).

    I've never cooked octopus before and am keen to give this a try. If I can relive the best octopus I've ever had (grilled in Peru) I think I'll cry with joy.

  3. thanks!

    This method of cooking octopus couldn't be easier. There are two ingredients: octopus and water. Once you've braised it you can do anything you like to it! Eat it as is (seasoned), slice it, grill it, etc.