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Notable Nosh: Octopus

Octopus 1

I first ate octopus aboard a Portuguese Navy Destroyer back in 1981 and I have loved it ever since. It is a shame, however, that, although I have eaten it many different times, and many different ways, I have yet to have had an opportunity to cook it in my own kitchen. I’d love to try my hand at it sometime as I gather that can be a bit of a challenge. Apparently, it is a delicacy that requires considerable preparation (such as prolonged pounding) to tenderize it before cooking.

One of my favorite ways to eat octopus is as sashimi as this really allows the delicate sweetness of the flesh to shine. Sashimi is generally associated with raw fish or shellfish (even meat occasionally), but there are a few specialties, such as octopus, that are exceptions. Octopus, I can only assume, would be far too tough and chewy to be eaten in its natural state, although, in the interests of culinary experimentation, I’d probably be willing to give it a try sometime…

The slices of octopus sashimi pictured above was served to me at Ken’s Japanese Restaurant in Ottawa a while ago. The knife work really wasn’t very expertly handled on this occasion (and this can make a surprising difference to almost all types of sashimi), but the flesh was still nicely tender and very sweet as well. Normally, in these ‘Notable Nosh’ posts, I just feature a single dish, but I thought that this time I might also share a couple of other octopus preparations as well…

Octopus 2

I had this octopus appetizer at Restaurant E18teen in Ottawa back in March. I apologize that the picture couldn’t be a little better but I really wanted to share this dish as it was absolutely superb. The octopus tentacles were grilled to perfection, with just a little bit of charring in a few places, and it was lovely and fresh tasting. The pieces were served on a few splashes of a Romesco Sauce, and garnished with some caramelized onion, almond slices and a dusting of Espelette Pepper. Quite honestly, I could have made a full meal of this rather than just as a light appetizer.

Octopus 3

I have tried quite a few canned octopus products but very few have impressed me very much. The canning process does not seem to favor octopus meat terribly well and I have found that most varieties come across with a texture a bit like soggy cardboard. The Portuguese product you see pictured above, however, is one of the better ones I have tried. It is packed with nothing but vegetable oil, a little salt and some garlic.

Octopus 4

Here you can see the octopus out of the can. The chunks are quite nicely sized and they are very nicely chewy in comparison to other brands. I ate this plain, right out of the can, and didn’t bother with any additions, although a little hot sauce, or perhaps a little lemon juice would be nice as well. It also strikes me that, with a few other ingredients, the meat would make a nice cold salad and the oil, which has taken on the flavor of both the octopus and the garlic, could easily be adapted to make a dressing. Using the meat in hot dishes might also work in a pinch (although a very short cooking time would be mandated) and I think maybe a brief sauté in a spicy curry sauce might work very nicely in the absence of the real thing.

As for the real thing, I actually came across frozen octopus in a small fish market in Ottawa’s Chinatown not long ago. Unfortunately, the logistics of storing and then transporting the frozen meat north will take a bit of planning and, I fear, will have to wait for the time being. Once I do manage it, and thus get to cook octopus myself for the first time… or even if I just try cooking with the canned variety… I will certainly post the results here.

 

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love octopus too, if properly cooked because it is often bland and/or too tough. I’ve gotten excellent results cooking octopus sous-vide and found that cooking times and temperatures are quite forgiving. So much so, that I think you can get excellent results using a ziploc bag in a large pot of simmering water (170-190 degrees) for 4 hours or so. This should be feasible if you find a setting of the burner that will keep the water in this temperature range, so you won’t need to babysit the pot.
    Perhaps you can order it from the store where you purchase other frozen seafood?

    Freezing also helps to make it tender, so this is one of those exceptions where frozen seafood is not a bad thing.

    May 19, 2013
  2. I love octopus too, if properly cooked because it is often bland and/or too tough. I’ve gotten excellent results cooking octopus sous-vide and found that cooking times and temperatures are quite forgiving. So much so, that I think you can get excellent results using a ziploc bag in a large pot of simmering water (170-190 degrees) for 4 hours or so. This should be feasible if you find a setting of the burner that will keep the water in this temperature range, so you won’t need to babysit the pot.
    Perhaps you can order it from the store where you purchase other frozen seafood?

    Freezing also helps to make it tender, so this is one of those exceptions where frozen seafood is not a bad thing.

    May 19, 2013
    • I neve thought about freezing having a tenderizing effect but I suppose it would. I am going to Ottawa in July so I am going to try and plan things so that I can bring one or two frozen ones back with me.

      May 19, 2013
      • The ice crystals destroy some of the tissue. Usually this is a bad thing, which is why I try to avoid freezing as much as pssible, but for octopus it’s nice.

        May 19, 2013
  3. I love octopus. Love love love. I have heard of the freezing method here too, but I have actually never cooked it at home, it always seems like a daunting process to me!

    May 21, 2013
  4. Gotta dash off to the restaurant to have some octopus tonight 🙂 Your pictures triggered my craving 🙂

    May 22, 2013
  5. I love octopus, but I’ve never cooked it at home. I saw this video with Eric Ripert. Apparently you can buy them pre-tenderized?

    May 28, 2013
    • I rather suspect the frozen ones in Ottawa were the non-tenderized variety…. but that’s okay 🙂

      May 28, 2013
      • 🙂

        Yes, I do have to say that I didn’t think they came pre-tenderized until I saw the video. I wonder if that means he had a staff member whack it against a table instead of himself 🙂

        May 28, 2013

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