Eureka! You cannot imagine how happy I was that I finally got some tender octopus as a result of a very, very simple way of braising the beast(s). Over the past two years or so, I have tried say 6 different methods for tenderizing and cooking octopus, with very mixed, often disappointing results. Cook it fresh, cook it after hanging it outdoors in the sea air, after freezing it. Beat it silly with a hammer, a meat tenderizer, a bottle. Braise it in wine, tomatoes, etc. Boil it in cold water to start, drop it into hot water, boil it then braise it. Add corks to the brew (a Mario Batali tweak)… and yet never have I been truly totally happy with the results. I had nearly thrown in the towel, of course blaming the darned local octopus rather than my paltry octopi cooking skills, but I really wanted to replicate a salad I have eaten several times at an Italian restaurant in a local gast station (another story), so I tried just one more time…
The cooking basic method I got from an internet post on octopus salad, here. But I augmented it with several other steps which hopefully helped with the end result. First, buy live octopus from your nearest seaside market, I got several at the Nasugbu market a few weeks ago. Second, FREEZE the octopods. I read somewhere freezing helps break down some of the inherent toughness. Next defrost the octopus and beat it firmly with a meat tenderizer — hard enough to feel the flesh yield, but not so hard as to break skin. Next, place the octopus in a Le Creuset or Staub dutch oven and put it over a medium low flame. Do not pre-heat the pot. Add a cork or two for good measure (not sure I buy the Batali thing, but it couldn’t hurt), I used a wine cork and a champagne cork. Once the octopus has reached a boil (and lots of its own liquid fills the bottom of the pot), lower the heat and cover the pot and let it simmer for say 40-50 minutes until tender when poked with a fork. Turn off the heat, let the octopus cool in its braising liquid. Now you have pretty darned good and quite tender octopus for salads, to grill briefly if desired, to add to other dishes.
Why put up with all this octopi experimentation? Because octopus can be quite plentiful and VERY economical in local markets. They taste great when done right. And they have a unique texture and flavor. So I persevered. And next up, see a couple of different salads I made with this braised octopus… :)