July 16, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 3:25 pm

Of all the commonly eaten food creatures, shellfish and cephalopods seem to be treated with the greatest trepidation. I suppose that, in today’s world of sanitised chicken breasts in plastic wrappers, the sight of eyes, tails, legs and tentacles is a harsh reminder that you’re actually eating something that was a living and breathing creature.

Then there is the fact that, when it comes down to it, these creatures do look rather bizarre. In fact they look so alien that the horror writer HP Lovecraft seems to have based his designs for ancient evil Gods on them.

cthulu looks like a big green squid

Picture from www.paleos.com

Doesn’t the evil God Cthulu look like an overgrown squid on legs? I’m glad that is all fiction, or I’d be in a lot of trouble with all the tentacles i’ve eaten in my time. ;)  

While I can partially understand a slight hesitation in wanting to try these rather odd looking creatures, cephalopods can make some really tasty meals. Here is one of them.

Spiced Octopus with lime and coconut rice and curried beans

This is octopus, dressed with a spicy oil and coriander served with coconut and lime rice and some curried green beans. Personally I think that, in this form, the octopus looks rather appetizing. But it didn’t start off looking like this.

If you’re of a squeamish disposition, you’d better quit reading this post here. The more adventurous among you may prefer to click on the ‘more’ button to see my octopus on the way to becoming this tasty meal. But don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Now, cleaning a whole octopus can be fun but if you’re a little clumsy like me, you’re likely to get yourself covered in ink and confuse yourself when trying to turn the octopus inside out.  This is why I was very pleased to find a large octopus which my fishmonger (the helpful guys at Whole Foods) happily cut up for me.

Here we have five tentacles. That’s about 450g of octopus. This octopus had been frozen before I bought it. If you get them totally fresh, it’s worth freezing them for a week or two as this will help to tenderise the meat. Other tricks I’ve heard involve putting the octopus in a washing machine!


raw octopus tentacles

Yes, in this state they’re just as cold and slimy as they look. Fortunately, cooking changes all that. I’ve found that the easiest way to cook octopus is to simmer it gently in water until it is tender. You need to bring a pot of water to the boil (perhaps with some onion and spices in there too) then drop in your octopus. Let it come back to a simmer and, thirty to forty minutes later, they’ll be done. There’s a rumor that putting a wine cork into the water with your octopus causes a chemical reactin whick helps to tenderise the meat. I didn’t use one on this occasion and the octopus was still fine.  

To check if they’re cooked, just press a fork into a tentacle and see if it is tender. If it is, drain the octopus. 

cooked octopus tentacles

On larger octopuses, you may want to cut away any skin that is hanging off the tentacles. It doesn’t havea great texture. 

Now all there is to do is cut it into bite sized pieces, season and serve with accompaniment of choice. On this day I was experimenting so, as a variation on the classic mediterranean dishes where octopus is simply dressed in olive oil with herbs and spices, I dressed my octopus in oil with cumin, coriander seed, a little fresh red chilli, a touch of paprika to give it some sweetness, coriander leaf and a squeeze of lime.

Another good thing to do with octopus is a red wine, cognac and tomato casserole. The sweetness of tomato and red wine together really complement the flavour of octopus and the brandy is a good match for its meatiness.     

I know it is a long shot, but I hope some of you have been converted to eating octopus. If you can get your fishmonger to clean one for you it is very easy to prepare and it is an extremely tasty meat.

octopus again



  1. I love octopus. We used to have marinated baby octopus at japanese restaurants when i was in hong kong, they were served cold with a spicy sesame dressing - they were a bit crunchy too :) The meet we had in Chinatown when we had dim sum also had baby octopus, thai style - delicious.

    I’ve never seen octopus as big as yours though!

    Comment by Schmoofaloof — July 16, 2007 @ 5:08 pm

  2. I like those little baby ones too. I’ve had them as tapas and dim sum but I can’t ever seem to find them fresh. At Borough they sell whole octopuses which are about a foot long. Those are the ones I used to buy until Whole Foods started stocking these big ones. They’re about 3 times as long. The meat tastes the same but htey are about half the price.

    In theory, I think octopuses can be proper giants- the size of a house or something crazy like that. I doubt anyone would be dumb enough to try and catch one of those though!

    Comment by ros — July 16, 2007 @ 5:16 pm

  3. Cephalopods are good eating…I think even the cuttlefish is considered a good bite. I love octopus sushi…Alex, my 15 year old son got me to try it and it is so tasty if fresh…like the sea. There’s a great sushi place there in Ealing Common called Sushi Hiro and they had the best octopus ever. Ros, another great looking meal.

    Comment by Vanessa — July 17, 2007 @ 12:29 am

  4. I’ve never had octopus sushi, but I have eaten raw squid - delicious…

    Another ‘trick’ with cooking octopus is to dip as much as you can into the boiling water a couple of times before emerging totally - I think this ’shocks’ it and keeps it tender. Actually, I don’t believe any of it - there seems to be a lot of folklore about it all - the freezing thing does work, but not so sure about the cork (or bashing it agaisnt a rock…)

    I don’t think cleaning them is too bad - though it can be messy.

    My favourite way of serving it is with olive oil and paprika - but love the sound of your spices too.

    Comment by Richard — July 17, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

  5. You have TOTALLY inspired me!!! Theyve always got frozen octopus at our fish market.. I always eye it… wishing I knew what to do with it… but now I do!! =D Thank you!

    Comment by Lea — July 19, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  6. Unfortunately I’m a stubborn little git when it comes to cephalopods and I don’t think I’ll ever grow to like them. I know, I know, it’s inexcuseable of me but what the hell, I can say with confidence that I’ve eaten a lamb’s heart and enjoyed it. I think that beats octopus on the weirdness scale…

    Comment by Trig — July 20, 2007 @ 6:12 pm

  7. You brave woman! I have had the baby ocropus that you sometimes h ave as tapas or in a salad and am not freaked out by them, and I ADORE calamari so am not freaked out by the texture. But dealing with the whole tentacles is a bit daunting… An ex’s mom had a tip for tenderising octopus/calamari - marinade it in crushed tinned pineapple overnight. Her steaks were always buttery soft.

    Comment by Jeanne — July 20, 2007 @ 11:56 pm

  8. Vanessa, it’s true cuttlefish are very good, but I don’t see them here very often. I ate loads last time I was in Sri Lanka though. They seem to be native to those waters. Thanks for recommending the sushi restaurant!

    Richard, I’m pretty sceptical about all these stories too. Freezing it seems to work fine on its own so I think that’s all I’ll bother with, although I suppose I’d throw in a wine cork if there happened to be one lying around. You’re tight cleaning them isn’t too bad (squid on the other hand are grim to prepare) but last time I got ink all over my white top. I know, I should buy an apron!

    Lea, I hope you enjoy it. Make sure you blog it!

    Trig, I can’t decide if heart is weird or not. Surely if something is available in Tesco it can’t be weird. But then again, when I picked up a pack it did cause my Dad to squeal like a girl, which means it must have weirded him out. ;) In my opinion they’re good eating too.
    I can understand you not liking octopus, it does have a distinctive flavour, but squid!? I think I’d die if I went a week without calamari!

    Jeanne, thanks for the pineapple suggestion. I use lime on squid sometimes, that seems to work too. I’veheard that some people use kiwi fruit.
    The tentacles really aren’t that bad. Once theyre cooked, its just a case of chopping, seasoning and eating.

    Comment by ros — July 21, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

  9. Just bought my first octopus. Can’t wait to get to grips with it. There looks like quite a lot of it! How many will one feed?

    Comment by Louise — July 14, 2008 @ 1:54 pm

  10. Hi Louise,

    I’m afraid my answer will be very unhelpful here because it totally depends on the size of the octopus. When I made this dish, the fishmonger lopped about pound of tentacles off a rally big beast but on previous occasions I had bought small whole baby octopuses, about 10 inches long and it made enough stew for three/four people.

    Comment by ros — July 15, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

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