How To Cook Octopus

How To Tenderise Your Octopus

The not very well kept Portuguese secret of how to produce tender octopus is to freeze it first.  This one here I bought already frozen from a Portuguese deli and it comes pretty clean with only the cutting to do, easy to prepare.  If you don’t have time to freeze your octopus then the old fashion way is to beat it or as shown in the brilliant documentary about Jiro (the most famous sushi chef) is to have your kitchen brigade massage it for 45 minutes.

I expect a certain chewiness from octopus but a nice pleasant edible tender chewiness, a tough octopus on the other hand is a very different experience, and I’ve eaten those.  The most tender octopus I’ve ever eaten, so tender it would fall apart in my mouth was cooked by my mother in the pressure cooker, and having seen what it can produce I’ve added a pressure cooker to my shopping list of ‘must have’.

The Right Octopus

I remember my Gran telling me how to distinguished between the octopus to buy and the ones not to buy.  For her the superior quality one was like the one I have here, with two rows of suckers on each tentacles as appose to the more common octopus found for sale in the UK with a single row of suckers per tentacle.

I find this half frozen octopus suspended in ice a curious and rather attractive thing to look at in a funny sort of way, maybe because I would find it interesting to draw.

Tentaculos de Pota

There is also another form of cephalopod that may appear octopus-like which is sold frozen and already cut into individual tentacles in Portuguese shops called tentaculos de pota (tentacles of squid).

They don’t look like any squid I’ve ever cooked or eaten, so I suspect like everything else that they’re a different species.

The pota are much cheaper than the octopus.

If you know their name in English let me know.

What’s most noticeably different about them is how they don’t have suckers like octopus, and their tentacles don’t curve in quite the same way.  I bought it to see how they differ in taste.

It may seen like a lot of octopus but it shrinks into very small pieces, 1.478 kg (3.3 pounds), will give you enough for octopus rice for four people.

It may at first appear intimidating but it’s really easy to cut with a sharp knife.

How To Cut Octopus

Hold up one leg and cut at the base of it to release it from the main body.  Carry on cutting all of the tentacles.

Once you’ve cut all the tentacles you’ll be left with the head and the middle piece that held all the tentacles together.

Separate the two.

Discard the hard middle piece.  The head cut it in half and cook along with the tentacles.

Prepare a stock pot with whatever aromatics you have, here I had:

onion, carrot, parsley stalks, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, black peppercorns, if I had a leek I would also add one.

Bring the stock to the boil and add the octopus.

Bring the water back up to the boil.

In order to get to know how if feels when probing the octopus with a fork to test it it’s tender enough, I think it would be a good idea for you to probe it 5 minutes after boiling and again 15 minutes later, you’ll feel how the meat has become tender.

It won’t be tender enough at that point but feeling for it is the only way to gain experience.

An octopus could take from 20 minutes to 45 minutes depending on its quality and the size of it.

Let it come to the boil first before putting the lid on if you don’t want spillage!  If your lid doesn’t have a hole lift it slightly to leave a tiny gap away from the pan.

This octopus here took 40 minutes to cook and by the time it was done the meat was coming off the fork as I lifted the fork.

Remove the octopus from the water, reserve the water if you’re making octopus rice.

In case you’re wondering why the tentacles are not cut before cooking this is why, the pink coloured slice is one which went into the water cut at the beginning.  What’s nice to have in the finished octopus is the contrast of the porcelain white interior contrasting against the pink exterior.

Interestingly enough the pink slices are not cooked any better or more tender than the pieces from the whole tentacle.

Below the cooked pota and octopus.

Difference Between Pota and Octopus?

When you put the cut pota and octopus side by side cut you can see there’s a difference in appearance.  There’s also a difference in taste when eating side by side but I would have to be honest and say if you were to eat them on separate days you would not notice much difference.

People like me who’ve been brought up with octopus will have a deep memory of the subtle difference and more delicate but pronounced flavour of the octopus to that of the pota, but I was pleasantly surprised how good pota was especially considering the price difference.

The pota cooks much quicker, this one was done in 15-20 minutes.

In neither of them I added salt as I wanted to see how salty they were naturally, and the pota was salty and tasted like salty seafood where’s the octopus didn’t.  Next time I would add salt to octopus.

The texture of the pota is less delicate than that of the octopus.

I would buy pota again and not feel I’m buying an inferior product just a different one.

The most important thing for octopus rice is the water you cooked it in, it’s where all the rice’s flavour will come from.

If you’re not making the rice the simplest of salads is the octopus salad.  Recipe coming up next followed by the octopus rice recipe.