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Boiling Octopus:

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9 replies to this topic

#1 MiguelCardoso

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Posted 11 May 2004 - 10:39 PM

I wouldn't abuse your extraordinary kindness and generosity if I weren't desperate. I've boiled octopus in all the ways recommended here in Portugal, by everyone from fishermen to great chefs, namely:

1) Freezing fresh octopus first; then boiling it for 15-20 minutes (or until an unpeeled potato is tender), lifting it three times out of the boiling water for a few seconds and then re-submerging it. Result: always too tough and rubbery. The alternative (i.e. leaving it for another two hours, the theory being it's either 20 minutes or 120 minutes) makes it tender but mushy and tasteless. All the goodness leaks into the broth - so we end up making octopus rice.

2) Beating the hell out of fresh octopus, as fishermen (and Greeks) do. Result: mushy octopus, tasty but with no bite.

3) Putting frozen octopus into a pressure cooker, no water and a cork ( Don't ask! Nobody knows why). Result: worked well only once. Other times it was disagreeably burnt.

4) The brief Japanese method - too chewy and tough, unless you slice it very thin.

I've tried sea water, unsalted spring water and even octopus stock from previous fiascos.

No such problems occur with squid or cuttlefish. What's your method? If you're like Portuguese cooks, you won't say - and I'm used to that. I know however you won't do the Portuguese trick of giving incomplete instructions, so that you seem friendly without actually encouraging competition.

Many thanks beforehand!


#2 Shaun Hill

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 01:28 AM

I sympathize with your plight and wonder whether the effort in preparing octopus is actually justified by the result or whether they are best left to annoy other sea life whilst we tuck in to some tender and delicious squid.

I have always used one of the methods you have already used and discarded, dropping the octopus into boiling water for a minute or two then rescueing it to somewhere cool, repeating this two more times then simmering for an hour. At this point the octopus is ready to be cooked again - and for another hour - as part of some stew.

Have you thought that this is as good as it gets?

Good luck

#3 MiguelCardoso

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 02:22 AM

Thank you so much, Shaun!

Actually, you cleared the mystery once and for all! I had, in fact, just been scooping the octopus out of the boiling water for less than a minute and then dropping it back in. I had no idea you had to let it cool before replunging. This was the detail that my friendly chefs - grrrr! - omitted, thereby ensuring my frustration.

I shall be using your method from now on, starting Sunday - and we shall raise a glass to you and yours. All the very best!

P.S. Your idea of leaving octopii in the sea is indeed a good one as all the fishermen I know hate them because, in lobster pots, they invariably devour all the crustaceans - and then escape. If you're foolhardy enough to put a live octopus in a seawater-filled bucket with other shellfish (your morning's catch), you'll inevitably find, once you get to shore - or back to your restaurant - that the beast has sucked out all the meat from its neighbours, though their appearance (apart from the telling hole from whence the extraction proceeded) is picture-perfect. Still, they're too delicious. And by leaving them in the sea all they'll do is gobble up an ever greater amount of shrimps, lobsters and crabs. That's why they taste so good, the bastards! :)

#4 endless autumn

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 05:01 AM

I find that if you freeze octopus, defrost it and cook it covered in 2/3 olive oil, 1/3 water (plus aromatics) in a very low oven (70c/80c) overnight or for about eight hours, it tends to be tender enough.

#5 Ruth

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 05:54 AM

I have not yet tried this method myself: Some chefs now are treating octopus as we do squid - three minutes in boiling water and then thinly sliced tako style. I think that is the way it is sometimes prepared at l'Impero in New York. The resulting texture is unusual, almost crisp, but not rubbery. I asked the waiter if it had been cooked at all and he told me it had "seen a little heat". Sam Choy also cooks it in the same way.
Ruth Friedman

#6 Steve Martin

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 09:14 AM

I have had my own mixed results with octopus. The 'Japanese' method was a failure.


Perhaps refreshing in ice water during the scaring would amplify the process?
Maybe if I had sliced it much thinner it might have been edible, but it is hard to imagine.

I'll keep trying.

#7 rich

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 09:17 AM

Anyone know how the Greeks do it for grilled octopus? The dish they serve at S'agapo in Astoria is excellent.
Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

#8 hathor

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 09:45 AM

Anyone know how the Greeks do it for grilled octopus? The dish they serve at S'agapo in Astoria is excellent.

When we were in the Greek Islands, the fisherman would beat them on the rocks, as mentioned by Miguel, then hung on a clothesline.
When you ordered one, it got thrown on a battered charcoal grill, seared and then served with some limes and a cold beer. It remains as one of the all time great food memories, but I guess its not practical at home...

#9 bleudauvergne

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 10:00 AM

My fishmonger shared the story that they used to beat it on the docks in Marseille - he says that I should freeze it to break down the toughness. I did that, and then prepared it the french version a la greque. (Unfortunately this is not grilled.) (you can google translate if you don't read french) It was a wonderfully flavorful melt in your mouth aperetif the next day. :smile:

I want to try the same recipe but replace sechuan pepper corns for the coriander seeds next time. :biggrin:

edit: Mustard seeds might be interesting too.

Edited by bleudauvergne, 13 May 2004 - 10:03 AM.

#10 thelastsupper

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Posted 16 May 2004 - 12:56 PM

Boil frozen octopus in a heatproof plastic bag for 2+ hours. It becomes very tender and all of the juices/flavor stay next to the flesh of the octopus rather than leaching into the cooking liquid.