Braised Octopus

Mrs. MM and I had a wonderful octopus salad at that Italian Restaurant Va Bene, in the Petron Gas Station on EDSA corner Pasay Road. It appeared to a be a slow braised octopus, that was probably then frozen to stiffen it up before passing it through a meat slicer or shaver to result in nearly paper thin slices, then dressed with a vinaigrette and topped with some greens. It was reasonably tender, with a pleasant octopus flavor and delicious. They don’t always have it, but when they do, we would definitely order it again…

So a week after we enjoyed the octopus salad, I was wandering around the Nasugbu market, and spotted two small sized octopodes, roughly 1.8 kilos in weight each, and decided to buy one with the intention of doing a version of the salad we had enjoyed at Va Bene. I didn’t have a lot of access to a fast internet connection, so I didn’t think to check back on old posts I had written on octopus here, here and here, and the helpful comments about cooking octopus… that was the first critical error in this latest experiment.

Octopus can be rather tricky to cook. Some folks like it just barely blanched and eaten “crudo” or raw-ish style, like sushi, here, or in a slow-braised manner that brings it to a tender consistency with a maximum of flavor enhanced by a variety of aromatics. I just assumed that like squid, you either barely cooked it, or cooked it for hours until it was nice and soft. Wrong. You CAN overcook octopus. Remember that. Because I obviously forgot that important fact. :)

Octopi are stunning creatures when examined up close. This one was quite fresh, and if you put your fingers up against its “suckers” they stuck like suction cups… We cleaned the octopus by removing the sack and brains(?) and washed it thoroughly. The crew wanted the head for an “adobo” so I braised the 8 tentacles that started off a decent size, but shrunk substantially with the unintended overcooking…

The grey Staub was picked because of its color… I know, I know, that has absolutely NOTHING to do really with the task at hand. :)

I sauteed some garlic, onions and tomatoes, added some red wine, a bit of seafood broth and tomato passata and some dried herbs and spices.

I added the octopus tentacles and let this all braise/simmer for about 45 minutes, at which point I tested the meat and it was quite tender, so I thought more cooking time would make it incredibly soft and supple… WRONG! I should have pulled the octopus out at that point. Darn! :)

A photo of the tentacles just after they were put into the braising liquid…

…after 3+ hours of cooking, where the octopus shrank by more than half (the tentacles are 80% water apparently) and they were quite tough. Delicious and well flavored, but tough. I have just read all my previous posts and some other recipes and realize I should be cooking the octopus less, and possibly in its own liquid mostly instead. But no worries, I went back to the market and bought another octopus the following day, threw it into the freezer (some say this helps tenderize the beasts) and will try this recipe again. So, the story continues another day…

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21 Responses

  1. Didn’t realize how big the octopus was until I saw that picture of the hand lowering the tentacles down the pot. That’s humongous!

  2. I saw on several TV cooking shows that to tenderize the octopus, you have to whack it repeatedly on a rock or on the pavement.

  3. Marnie, you are right. Beating the octopus is one way suggested. Another is to semi-dry in the sun for a while. Another is to freeze it. Another is to cook it in water with a bit of vinegar. Yet another is to throw a wine cork into the water when boiling it… :)

  4. They must be easter critters, your other octopus post, I recall, was also around this time of the year. Glad to see you do not favor one declension of octopus over another, Flanders and Swann did a similar approach for hippopotamus.

    Liver is another I never gained understanding of mainly because of the long intervals between my trials. It unfailingly comes out balut stone hard, impossible to sink my long teeth into.

  5. Footloose, I am not a huge liver fan, but RARE is the only way I have managed to eat it without it going “balut stone hard”… :)

  6. That’s my other problem. Rare liver is too Rosemary’s Baby for me.

    I have to mention, that Staub grey piece is handsome.

  7. Happy Easter to everyone. Love that Staub pot. I have never tried cooking octopus. Have to give it a go.

  8. “Wonderful octopus salad at that Italian Restaurant Va Bene, in the Petron Gas Station”

    Never in a million years would I expect to read a sentence like that, but then, here in the U.S. gas station food means deep-fried crap kept warm under a light bulb, or at best a co-located McDonalds.

  9. I love Va Bene, too! And the last time I had great octopus was at a special dinner at Punta Fuego. We didn’t order off the menu; the chef (who is from San Sebastian, Spain — so you can imagine) cooked dishes he just wanted to serve us. The pulpo was so tender and dressed simply but deliciously.

  10. I have seen old ladies bashing them on their stone front steps in a village in Italy. I doubt their daughters and grand- daughters would do the same, so now some places sell them “pre-tenderized”. I believe they go into something a bit like a washing machine. It’s like our great- grandmas bashing clothes with paddles at the river, which not many of us do now. Progress really…

  11. I have been in search of a good octopus recipe, after I tried a really good octopus dish in Enoteca Sociale, an Italian wine tasting room- turned restaurant here in Canada. As it was described in the menu, it was marinated for hours and slow cooked. The only thing stopping me from preparing this dish is I get grossed out with the uncooked octopus. Although here, it comes frozen and hopefully cleaned up, its not as bad. I can’t imagine removing the sac like you did. Once I summon the courage to do so, I will definitely try this one. Thanks MM!

  12. Slicing them thinly is a good idea. Have never tenderized one on my own … btw, I like your grey STAUB … your kitchen is like a jewelry box. I love those cast iron pots and pans, stainless-steel thick-bottoms …

  13. I saw in that episode of “On the road again…” they placed the octopus in a pot of water, heated to a rolling boil then turned-off the fire, left the octopus in the pot for 30-40 mins, then grillled and sliced….

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