Octopus is tender and delightful. When we’re eating out, we order it whenever we can as it makes us feel rich and spoilt. And yet it’s so easy to prepare at home. There are no tricks or special ingredients required – all you need is a big pot, a freezer and a friendly fishmonger. Knowing how to cook octopus is one of those skills that, once learnt, you’ll wonder why you’ve never done it before. Take my advice: learn how to cook octopus, and then make sure you’ve always got one in the freezer ready to go.
How I Learnt to Cook Octopus Like a Ligurian
No time for stories? Scroll down for the recipe.
When you travel around rural Italy, you’ll notice that all the eating places in a certain region serve the same thing. It can be a bit of a shock for those who come from multicultural cities to find that the menus more or less repeat themselves. There isn’t a lot of ‘contemporary Italian cuisine’ going on in the small towns and villages. There’s no ecletic hybridization of traditional dishes with avante garde techniques. There’s no possibility of a rotating ethnic dining experience: Greek on Monday, Thai on Tuesday, Vietnamese on Wednesday, and so forth. When you’re travelling through the Italian countryside, you’ll be eating Italian, and you’ll be eating well.
Traditions run deep, and for good reason. The raw ingredients, locally produced, are so good, so beyond imitation, that it only makes sense to flaunt them. The Italians know that, in the kitchen, excess doesn’t translate as tastier. The mastery lies in knowing which two or three ingredients work together as a perfect team. Prosciutto and radicchio, basil and pinenuts, coffee and mascarpone.
When we were in Liguria last summer, I kept seeing Octopus on the menu. It was something I’d never cooked at home. Calamari, yes. Back in my pre-Paleo days, I knew how to whip up a beer batter and deep fry them, but a whole octopus? No way. I had no idea what you’d do with it once you got it home. Since going Paleo, octopus had become a rare treat, so I ordered it without delay. It was, as expected, wonderful. In Liguria, the traditional dish is Polpo con Patate, Octopus with Potatoes. It’s perfectly refined. The cooked octopus is served with thinly sliced boiled potatoes. The plate is doused with extra virgin olive oil, and invigorated with a generous scattering of fresh parsley. Elegant, and so simple. If only you know how to cook octopus. Which I didn’t.
So I asked. The eastern-block waitress called over to the appropriately enormous owner-chef to confirm the procedure. Freeze it. Take it straight from the freezer and plop it into a pot of cold water. Bring the water to the boil. Keep it on the boil it for 40 minutes. Drain it. Chop it. Serve it.
That’s it? Yep, that’s it.
Salt in the water? Nope. No salt.
That, it seemed, was it.
The Wednesday after we got home, I bought my first fat Octopus from my fishmonger. And of course, when he asked if I wanted it cleaned, I said, ‘Yes.’
Buy Your Octopus Already Cleaned. Buy a Big One.
I’m not sure why recipes tell you how to clean produce such as seafood. Surely everyone asks their fishmonger to do it for them? Of course, if you’re a professional working in the food and catering business, or a fisherman, then you’ll need to know how it’s done, but for our purposes (I assume you’re like me, a health conscious home cook) I think it’s fair to just assume that our fishmongers will be more than happy to clean our seafood for us. If you really need to know how to chop out the innards, the eyes and the beak, then this post on Bon Appétit will walk you through it, as well as fill you in on some weird cultural theories. (Personally, I’ve never come across the wine cork theory. Maybe they do it in the South.) If, instead of fresh from the fishmonger, you buy a pre-frozen octopus, then it will most definitely already be cleaned.
Freezing is the way to go. It breaks down the fibres.
Buy a big octopus. Don’t be afraid of the size. They shrink considerably as they’re cooking.
How to Cook Octopus in 4 Easy Steps.
So here it is. Really, it couldn’t be any easier.
- Buy a fresh octopus already cleaned, and freeze it. Or, buy a frozen octopus.
- Plonk the frozen octopus into a large pot of cold water.
- Bring the water to the boil, and maintain the boil for 40 minutes.
- Remove the octopus, allow to cool, and slice as you wish.
The Bon Appétit post says to rub the skin off with your fingers. Do so by all means if you can be bothered, have the time, and are really wanting to impress. We don’t, we just want to eat.
Once cooked, serve your octopus as you wish. Toss the fat tenticles onto a hot grill and sear them. Keep it simple like the Ligurians and present it with cold potatoes and the best extra virgin olive oil you can find. Or do as we do: chop it into fork-sized chunks, heap them onto green leaves, or toss them through sauteèd lemon-and-thyme cauliflower florets. Whatever you do, don’t banish octopus to the confines of restaurant menus. Learn how to cook it. You deserve it.
Ask Your Fishmonger
Octopus Salad with Lemon, Parsley and Thyme – Now that you know how to cook it, wow yourself with this – it’s lovely as an appetizer, and is easily pumped up into a main.
Fresh Fried Sardines – Another one of those ‘Why Haven’t I Ever Made These Before’ recipes. Is it a recipe? It’s more of a ‘How To’. Easy. Do it. Buy them already cleaned, of course.
Stuffed Calamari with Cauliflower, Fresh Herbs and Yam – Oh, these are a treat! A little time consuming, to be sure, but they’re pink and puffed up and impressive!
Hope the information in this post is just what you were looking for. When you cook your first octopus, take a shot and tag me on Instagram @paleomantic. Leave a comment and rate the recipe!
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- 1 large fresh octopus, already cleaned, or a pre-frozen octopus.
- Place your fresh, cleaned octopus into a plastic bag and freeze it. Or, buy a pre-frozen octopus, .
- Place the frozen octopus into a large saucepan (4.5 litres/4 quarts) and fill with water.
- Bring the water to the boil. Maintain the boil for 40 minutes.
- Remove the octopus, allow to cool, and slice as you wish.