How to: cook octopus.

Otherwise titled, “how to cook a large octopus so that it melts in the mouth.” My octopus salad {full recipe HERE} is undoubtedly one of my most popular dishes. It’s one that I have spent many years making, and the secret is the octopus. And by octopus I mean the big suckers. Not the small ones sold as baby octopus, I honestly never bother with them. The large ones have such substantial flesh that they are ideal for long slow cooking. And we all know how delicious anything slow cooked is.

Here are my tips:

Start with a large octopus, at least a kilo and a half, but I have cooked with anything ranging from two to four kilos.

If you like ask the fishmonger to clean it for you {the bigger they are the bigger and messier the job}, and ALWAYS freeze the octopus when you get it home. This is what will ensure tenderness. No bashing required. I have also put it on to cook with a partially frozen octopus and the results are the same as when it has been fully defrosted.

Long and slow is the way to go. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest simmer, covered with a lid, until a skewer inserted into the thickest part goes in easily and with absolutely no resistance. This can take anywhere from an hour and a half to over two hours. Keep checking every half hour or so, and when the skewer just slides right through it’s done.

When making the salad it’s all about two words: RED WINE. I aim for about two thirds of the cooking liquid to be made up of red wine and the rest is water. The amount of cooking liquid depends on the size of the octopus, you want it to just barely cover it.

You can try a warm dressing too. Gently saute a sliced onion or a couple of French shallots in some olive oil. Add some finely chopped garlic and some peas. Season with a little salt and pepper. When the peas are just done add it to the chopped octopus and potatoes and stir through. {That’s what I did in the picture below}.

Make sure to keep some cooking liquid and add a few large spoons of it to the salad to keep it moist. The potatoes will suck up a lot of dressing.

You’re not limited to salads either. Try baking the octopus instead. Put the octopus into a large baking dish with some olive oil, a couple of whole heads of garlic, a couple of bay leaves, and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and cook in a moderate oven {about 180 C} until tender. Again, cooking time will depend on size. Add some whole peeled and seasoned potatoes after about an hour, cover, and cook until done. No wine is needed with this cooking method as the octopus will steam under the foil cover and release it’s own juices, which, with the olive oil, will make for a very tasty sauce.

However you cook it, don’t forget the aromatics: bay leaves, garlic cloves, peppercorns, salt, parsley, and olive oil. Be generous.

And that’s pretty much that. It’s honestly not at all difficult and the results are amazing for the small amount of effort required.

  1. Thank you for these tips. I have been wanting to cook a big octopus for a while now, but no idea where to find one. I visited the fish markets for one but they only had baby octopus and that didn’t fit in with my ambitions. I’ll keep looking and bookmarking this page for future reference. I wonder, have you ever cooked octopus in a slow cooker?

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    1. I have never tried it in a slow cooker, but I think the same principles would apply. Slow cookers are fantastic, I’d give it a go.

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