How do you cook octopus anyway? Use high heat, mind the beak

I’ve been a fan of octopus since I lived in Spain, where it is used in several traditional dishes.

In Galicia in the Northwestern part of Spain, you’ll find thick tentacles sliced into thin discs and coated in olive oil and paprika, often served with potatoes. In other places, you’ll find baby octopi or a few single tentacles sauteed in olive oil and garlic or grilled until the ends coil up and have a nice crisp.

These baby octopus have been prepped — by removing the hard center where you’ll sometimes find a beak — and are ready to cook. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

When I tried to recreate octopus at my apartment in Southern Spain, I often used a canned octopus preserved in its own ink. It sounds terrible, but that deep purple fried octopus and rice became one of my favorite home-cooked dishes during my year there.

Until earlier this week, I’d never worked with whole baby octopi, but thanks to the newly opened H-Mart, I got the chance. After searching the internet for cleaning instructions, I removed the hard(ish) center — there weren’t any actual beaks in these — and any membranes I found in the head. Taking the European route, I soaked them in a marinade made with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. (If you watch the livestream where I demonstrate this, you’ll see I also used a lemon powder I made recently with dried lemon peels.)

My kids were really worried I was going to choke on the suckers, which have been known to cling to an eater’s throat.

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When it’s not raining, I’ll try these again over a hot grill, but with our wet weather, I decided to simply cook them in a hot cast iron skillet. I’ve found that you really want some high heat here to cook them quickly and try to get some caramelization on the suckers and the tentacles.

Because they are small, you don’t have to dip them in a pot of boiling water, which is what you might have seen instructed for larger octopus.

Cooked octopus will curl up at the ends and have an even density throughout the flesh. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The quick stint in the marinade was enough to season the octopi thoroughly and the oil meant I didn’t need to add any to the pan. After about 5 to 7 minutes over a high heat, most of the octopi were cooked through. The thicker ones needed a little more time.

I served these baby octopi with fresh Japanese-style noodles that I also picked up at H-Mart. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

After they were all cooked, I chopped them into smaller pieces and cooked up a package of fresh Japanese noodles I also picked up at H-Mart. I didn’t use any typically Asian seasoning, though, so I stuck with olive oil and garlic salt when I served it.

During the livestream yesterday, several people commented about the ways they cook octopus now or grew up eating it. If you have techniques, seasoning suggestions or tips, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

 


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