Octopus: Don't be afraid

Cooking from afar can at times seem like overhearing an unknown language or watching an advanced martial art or accidentally walking into a calculus class. Enter the octopus. The lurking deep sea creature whose key to deliciousness and tenderness requires a copper penny, a wine cork, or a beating against rocks while standing in shallow water.

It turns out, octopus is really quite simple. It requires two steps: 1. simmering the octopus with tasty aromatics for a couple of hours and then 2. searing or grilling to crisp and serve.

When it comes to step one, the world is your oyster (or octopus). Start by adding a bit of olive oil to a large pot, then sweat some delicious flavoring agents in that oil. Onions, shallots, garlic, carrots, celery, leeks, chiles, orange slices, herbs, peppercorns - the possibilities are endless.  I like onion, garlic, celery, and orange peel. Then pour over a cup or two of dry white wine simmer for a minute and add enough water to the pot so that when you add octopus they will be covered. Bring that mixture to a simmer and add a hefty handful of salt. 

Bring on the octopus. This technique will work for any size octopus, but a 3-5 pound octopus is what I prefer. If the octopus you are using is bigger or smaller, adjust the simmering time longer or shorter. I remove the head from the octopus for this preparation, it's the tentacles that we are after. You can ask your lovely fishmonger to handle this step if you are squeamish. Drop the tentacles into the simmering water and check back in an hour or two. Stick a pointed knife into the thickest tentacle you can find and if it doesn't fight back, you are good to go.

All that's left is the crisping. Heat up a cast iron pan (or a grill) and add some oil and open the windows.  A little salt and pepper is all you need. Sear until crispy and golden. Enjoy with beans, salad greens, or a vinaigrette or garlic mayo. 

See? Nothing to be afraid of here. 


Crispy Octopus

Crispy octopus

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, rough chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 celery stalks, rough chopped
  • the peel and juice of one orange
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 3-5 pound octopus, head and beak removed and tentacles separated
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat a pot large enough to fit the octopus over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic, and celery. Sweat the vegetables until they are softened (about 10 minutes). Add the orange peel and juice along with the wine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add enough water to cover the octopus tentacles. When simmering, add a handful of salt and the octopus. Simmer for an hour and fifteen minutes and then check the octopus with a sharp knife. You should feel almost no resistance.

Carefully pull the tentacles out of the pot and let drain and with paper towels, wipe away any "skin" or bits from the octopus. Heat a cast iron or heavy bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil and when it is nearly smoking, season the tentacles with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Let the tentacles sear on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Adjust the heat to keep the sear at a nice even tempo. Use tongs to flip and move the tentacles as each side becomes crispy. Remove from the pan and enjoy hot or cool and slice for a salad.