Grilled Octopus (xταπόδι-σχάρας)

Jul 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Appetizer, Braising, Greek, Greek Grill, Greek Wine, Herbs, How To, Lemon, Lent, Olive Oil, Recipes, Seafood

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I noticed a disjoint from the notion people have of Greek food here in Canada and the United States and what is actually eaten in Greek homes or served if you were to go to a Greek estiatorio (restaurant) or taverna (tavern).

This gap is by and large due to the fact that we simply do not have the availability of Greek ingredients or the cost to bring them over here can be prohibitive.

Often times, local ingredients are given a Greek flare or touch. I’ve seen salmon often on the menus of Greek restaurants here…but breaded shrimp…fish and chips? All those are fine but not exactly the Greek seafood I know. Let me breakdown a more realistic menu selection of you were to go to  Greece…

Cuttlefish, squid, anchovies, sardines, whiting, mussels, octopus. These have become the seafood of the everyday Greek. Oh, you’ll see red snapper, porgy, swordfish, red mullet and sea bass on the menu but after you take out your calculator and figure how many dollars they convert to…you might forgo seafood or opt for yet another souvlaki (I hope not).

Greek cuisine has humble roots. It’s a country blessed and it’s a country with natural hardships. A respect for produce, meat and seafood exists. Large families had to be fed and nothing would be wasted – nothing. The Greek diet dictates that a family eat locally, in season foods and one only need a simple preparation of the dishes. Fresh ingredients are the cook’s best friend.

So, when you go to Greece, you will be served whole fish with the head still on. Octopus will be drying in the sun outside of a taverna on the Greek islands and while your splurging on a large sea bass, chances are it’s farmed and the table full of Greeks dining beside your table are enjoying sardines and fresh anchovies.

Now that I’ve crushed your notion of eating 5 Euro/kg red snapper each night, it’s time to once again embrace the octopus. It used to be dirt cheap here and in Greece – it’s  still affordable in Greece but now the consumer has a choice between fresh and frozen, local and foreign.

The octopus (octopus vulgaris) will be on the menu of every seafood tavern in Greece and practically every Greek restaurant outside of Greece. To order it is a delicacy and to eat it -  a delight.

Greeks enjoy octopus in a stew, with pasta, made into a salad with olive oil and wine vinegar but the most oft’ ‘ordered octopus is the grilled octopus…the subject of today’s dish.

Regardless of how you like your octopus cooked, it must be cleaned by removing the beak, eyes and interior organs removed. The octopus must also be tenderized. On the Greek islands, one often will see fishermen beating the octopus on concrete piers to tenderize it. Frozen octopus can also often become more tender.IMG_6786

On the Greek islands, they even go one further where one will often see a clothes line of octopi hanging  outside of a taverna, drying out in the hot Greek sun. This is done to draw out moisture (water) from the octopus, especially important if grilling octopus.

Like any creature, the octopus is made mostly of water. If one were to throw an octopus from sea to grill, all that water in the octopus would simply steam it into a  rubbery mass. So, moisture has to be drawn out (hang out to dry in the sun) and beat the living daylights of the octopus on the rocks of a Greek shore.

Most of us do not live on the Greek islands but here in the modern kitchen…one braises the octopus, which renders it down to a less than half it’s size but in the end, a tender octopus is left for your cooking discretion.

When braising an octopus, it needs no other liquid. All one has to do is throw it in a pot over high heat, cover and allow about 5-8 minutes for the liquid to release from the octopus. Once you see the octopus swimming in it’s own liquid…set it and forget it!

Octopus needs to be braised slowly. For a smaller octopus of about a couple of pounds, 45 to 60 minutes may be required. For larger ones you will need anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes.

On occasion, the liquid can totally evaporate as every octopus is different or you simply had the heat on too high. If this occurs, you may add some water or wine or both. Some aromatics like bay leaves, allspice berries or sometimes a cinnamon stick are added and all are perfectly acceptable.

Another addition into the braising liquid is the wine cork. Afficionados of octopus are divided on the the cork’s tenderizing effects on octopus. It is said that an enzyme in the cork helps the process along. I’ve tried braising octopus with and without the cork and I believe the octopus becomes more tender with the cork add into the pot.

Cork is a natural product, untreated with any chemicals and if it’s good enough to bottle your favourite  wine, it shouldn’t and won’t do know harm for you to try it out when braising/tenderizing your octopus. My final say on the cork issue is that both Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich swear by the “cork technique”. I’m happy to be in good company.

I served grilled octopus to my friends last week in honour of Canada Day as I wanted to showcase some Greek standards…things one would eat in Greece. Octopus is standard Greek fare.

After braising the octopus and poking it to ensure it became fork-tender, I simply took it off the heat, added some wine, a little balsamic vinegar and some fresh oregano to steep with the octopus. Your octopus should be ready to grill when the liquid comes to room temperature. You can throw in the fridge overnight and you have wonderful and tender grilled octopus the following day as well.

When your octopus is ready to be grilled, one need only take it out of the liquid, toss it in olive oil, some salt and cracked black pepper and some dried Greek oregano and place on your pre-heated grill for a quick sear on all sides of the octopus.

You can grill the octopus whole or cut the eight tentacles…either way the beasty has to be divided…it’s your choice when you do it. In the end, octopus is a revered morsel from the sea, Greeks adore it. Grilled octopus…seared and crisp on the outside, tender and white on the inside…briny as the sea, cut only by the fresh lemon juice just squeezed on it’s hot tentacles and a final sprinkle of dried Greek oregano – anointed by the waiting lover of grilled octopus.

Grilled Octopus (xταπόδι-σχάρας)

(makes 1 appetizer serving for 4)

1 medium to large octopus, beak and ink-sac removed (most octopi are already cleaned)

1/3 cup red wine

splash of balsamic or wine vinegar

cracked black pepper

fresh or dried Greek oregano

extra-virgin olive oil

salt to taste

lemon wedgesIMG_4232

  1. Place your octopus (throwing in the cork is optional) in a pot over high heat and cover. Allow the octopus to boil for about 5-8 minutes. Take the lid off and have a look to see if the liquid has been released (the octopus should be almost covered in liquid). Place the cover back on and reduce the heat to a medium-low and simmer for about 45 minutes (checking occasionally to see if there’s enough braising liquid). You may add some more water and continue to braise until the octopus is fork-tender.
  2. Remove from the heat and add your wine, balsamic vinegar and some Greek oregano. Allow the octopus to steep until the liquid has cooled or even better, place in the fridge overnight.
  3. When you’re ready to grill your octopus, pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill to a high heat. You may cut your octopus now or after it’s grilled (your choice).
  4. Take your octopus out of the liquid and place in a bowl. Add some olive oil, some balsamic vinegar, dried Greek oregano, freshly ground black pepper and if needed at all, some sea salt.
  5. Place the octopus on the grill and sear for about 2-3 minutes on both sides. Remove from the grill and place on a serving plate. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a good sprinkle of dried Greek oregano and a little sea salt.
  6. Serve as part of an array of Greek seafood appetizers (mezedes) with some Ouzo or Tsipouro.

If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at  http://kalofagas.ca then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.

© 2007-2009 Peter Minakis

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© 2009 – 2010, Peter Minakis. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at http://kalofagas.ca then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.

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59 Comments to “Grilled Octopus (xταπόδι-σχάρας)”

  1. Ben says:

    I can see many resemblances between Greek and Mexican food. We also love to cook with ingredients in season, fresh and nothing goes to waste. It is a shame than here in Ohio there’s no real Greek (or Mexican) food like the delicious dishes you post here. Someday I’ll move the coast of Mexico (or Greece) and make all these seafood dishes that I long for every time I visit your blog :D

  2. Maria B. says:

    Peter, είναι καταπληκτικό και τι φωτογραφίες !!!!!!!!

    Μπράβο !!!!

  3. I have to admit that I’ve never been able to eat octopus, except when it’s ground up in takoyaki, the Japanese fried dough balls. It’s a texture thing with me, and I haven’t been able to get past it. Shame, though, because your grilled octopus looks so enticing.

  4. Kat says:

    That cork tip is so cool. I’d love to try octopus somewhere where is was local

  5. Markus Stolz says:

    Peter, congratulations, you are doing such a great job on promoting Greek cuisine. The pictures are stunning, reading your comments brings everything alive. Very well done, thanks for sharing it. Superb!

  6. Markus Stolz says:

    Peter, congratulations, you are doing such a great job on promoting Greek cuisine. The pictures are stunning, reading your comments brings everything alive. Very well done, thanks for sharing it. Superb!

  7. Katerina says:

    I didn’t even like octopus until my trip to greece. Everything I had here was so rubbery, and there, even though done with the simplest preparation it was delicious and tender. I have not yet had the guts to make my own but this looks very like my wonderful memories.

  8. athena says:

    octopus…. mmmmmmm…..

  9. RobinSue says:

    Peter you make octopus look so good! I haven’t eaten one since a time in Korea when I had a bit of a bad experience. The little thing was so tough! Eeks. But I bet grilling makes them nice and tender!

  10. Great post, Peter! Your passion for everything Greek, especially the food, always comes shining through.

    I’ve enjoyed octopus in salads, pasta and sushi, but never have tried it grilled this way. You’ve made it look so wonderful that I may have to seek some out and prepare it this way!

  11. Lizzie says:

    I really love octopus, and your pictures made my mouth water! It’s not so easy for me to get hold of but I do have a bag of frozen baby octopus which are great on the bbq.

  12. Heidi Robb says:

    This looks fabulous – I am a huge fan of eating octopus but have yet to conquer the cooking of. I’m inspired to try.

  13. Wow Peter, cooking octopus is such an enigma to me in so many ways. But I love reading your posts on the many different ways to prepare it at home. I am still too afraid to attempt it myself….mainly because I don’t know where to find good quality fresh or frozen octopus….

    But grilled octopus is amazing stuff!

  14. Natashya says:

    You are a brave chef. When I get up the courage to cook an octopus, I will come to you. :)

  15. Amy says:

    This is very cool…Been inspired to make an octopus recipe for awhile now…Thank you

  16. Jeanne says:

    I’m fascinated as to the reason why the octopu has to be hung up for a while – but it makes perfect sense. I always thought the struggle we had to get the moisture out of octopus was because it had been previously frozen. You are right though – like with other seafood, if you don’t start off with minimal water you end up simmering rather than grilling! Your octopus looks heavenly – especially that final shot :)

  17. i will say that this is my favorite way to eat octopus – exactly what you did. dipping it in some extra virgin olive oil with a bit of sea salt and maybe some herbs – holy crap… orgasm. i wish octopus was more accepted here in the states. people still freak about it and i’ll never understand it. we’re obsessed over calamari, but people still can’t do octopus. although most people who eat calamari will only do so if it’s fried and will not eat the tentacles (which, to me, are the best part). ho hum.

  18. ELENA says:

    Eλα να βλέπω μεζεδάκια για ουζάκι!! Ετοιμαζόμαστε κανονικά για καλοκαίρι βλέπω Peter, έτσι??
    Χταποδάκι ψητό και ουζάκι, ο καλύτερος μεζές!!

  19. ΤΕΛΕΙΟ! Μπράβο Πήτερ!

  20. Elizabeth says:

    mmmmm delicious!!! One of my favorite summer mezes!

  21. Manggy says:

    LOVELY! Great pics from the taverna too. Soooo, I can get a frozen octopus and braise it and it will be really really tender? I’ve been afraid to buy it because I keep thinking it’ll be like rubber! I’m getting so excited! I wanna grill some octopi too!

  22. This is fascinating, Peter. I’ve always avoided octopus because the one time I tried it was with a Japanese friend’s parents and the dad liked his very, very chewy, which was a bit too… well, chewy for me. Everything you wrote here makes sense. Now I’m really inspired to try following this recipe!

  23. Mila says:

    Wow Peter…I love it when you talk about Greek foods’ beginnings! This really does look incredible!

  24. Peter G says:

    A great write up covering the more unknown eating habits of Greeks! If I had a bbq, I would def follow your instructions on prepping it and cooking it. It still remains one of my absolute favourite dishes to indulge in, especially as a mezedaki…bravo!

  25. Janet says:

    Octopus has always intrigued me. I have never made it myself… too intimidated I guess, and also it’s not so easy to find here. It is so beautiful to look at, too- almost like art! Thanks for showing that one needed be intimidated. ;-)

  26. Maria says:

    I’ve enjoyed octopus here and in many parts of Greece but my favorite by far is always that which we eat in Kalymnos. It is pounded on the rocks beside the ocean then set out to hang and dry as you said and there is something about that process that give the octopus such a distinct flavor. I’ve been known to bring back an octopus or two from my trips to Kalymnos because all other octopus just pales in comparison!

    Your grilled octopus looks quite flavorful Peter. Love how you took such great care to keep if soft and tender.

    • Maria, when the octopus is hanging in the sun, it’s drying out, losing moisture and in the end, the flavour is becoming concentrated. I look forward to enjoying more grilled octopus this summer.

  27. Lisa says:

    Thanks for the instruction. I want to cook octopus sometime this summer.

  28. Haley J. says:

    Peter, this a really beautifully written homage to the octopus. I am craving some right now! I also love your photos with the coiled tentacles are visually very interesting, also. I really enjoyed this.

  29. Tony says:

    Peter, this looks delicious! I made a new Greek friend where I recently moved and can’t wait to show her your blog – she’ll love it :)

  30. Kirby! says:

    OMG I just want to grab one of those octopus legs with my teeth and chew it off like a wild animal! They look gorgeous. And tasty. And I can’t find any decent octopus anywhere in my neighborhood. Posts like this are just teasing me and my octopus-less-ness.

  31. It’s one of the highlights of any vacation on the greek islands; the very fresh produce. We’ve literally seen the fisherman come in in the morning and that would be the same fish we would have on our plate in the evening. In fact; I’ve learned to love fish while in Greece!
    I never eat octopus when not in greece as we Dutch really cannot prepare it properly. Rubbery and tasteless is what you would be served here in a greek restaurant (well, most greek/dutch restaurants anyway) if you order octopus. Nothing can compair to a lovely freshly grilled one in greece!

  32. Ivy says:

    Peter, your octopus looks perfect and so juicy. I was really disappointed when recently we visited the island of Evia and wherever we ate octopus we paid a lot of money for a rubbery stuff, which of course we did not eat.

  33. When I was in Greece I made a pointed effort to try regional dishes from dishes baked in clay on the mainland to tiny tomatoes on the Greek isles.

  34. In other words, Greeks eat the way Americans SHOULD be eating, but aren’t.

    I think here in North America, we don’t just play too much with Greek cuisine. We do it with every cuisine. Granted, it does have a lot to do with availability of ingredients, but you hit it on the head when you said that you see a lot of breading and frying in restaurants supposedly selling cuisines where such things aren’t the norm.

    Very informative post on octopus, but they still scare me. ;-)

  35. Kristen says:

    Peter, I’m not sure I could cook or eat octopus, but nonetheless, this was certainly an interesting read!

  36. Marta says:

    I love that you use thecork as well! If Lydia and my nonno say it’s true: I’m not arguing with them!
    I wish we ate more octopus in Canada, it’s a shame how underrated it is.
    Thanks for this great dish!

  37. pam says:

    I’ve never had octopus, but I hope I have the opportunity some time.

  38. Oh man, it would take a lot of bravery to pick up one of those and toss him on the grill. Yikes! Bet he tasted great though.

  39. lo says:

    It’s so phenomenally gorgeous, Peter. I just keep scanning back up and over the photos… they’re mesmerizing! :)

    I love Octopus, but have never prepared it myself. Can’t say I’ve ever seen it in the market here either, though.

  40. Neen says:

    This recipe looks amazing, a real treat for those of us bored with the classic North-American grilled dishes. Thanks for the tip about the wine cork. I’ve bookmarked it, now to see if I can a) find octopus at the local grocery store, and b) convince my significant other to join the adventure! I must say, something about handling a whole octopus as opposed to just the legs makes it a lot more serious an undertaking.

  41. Bridgett says:

    I have never tried octopus but you make it seem to interesting that I almost may be brave enough to try.

  42. Pam says:

    You make me want to try octopus. It looks really delicious.

  43. cath says:

    A while back I put your wine cork to the test and have to agree that the octopus came out so tender it was incredible. I didn’t realise that we could then marinate the octopus and save it for another day on the grill – my fish loving tongan husband will be ecstatic when I try this recipe. Thanks…love your blog too!

  44. Helen says:

    I love your octopus posts as you know Peter – they make me crave octopus every time. You must be an expert in cooking them now! Your pictures are lovely by the way and I love that one where they are all hanging up.

  45. Joan Nova says:

    I’m very impressed with your octopus skills…on the grill and behind the lens. Octopus is the first thing I look for in a Greek restaurant (or pulpo in a Spanish one). I love it simply grilled and slathered in olive oil and lemon. I’ve never made it but if I do, I think I’d have the fish monger remove the beak, eyes, etc.

  46. This is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  47. Lori Lynn says:

    I almost made your octopus photo my desktop wallpaper. Seriously, I left this up all day earlier in the week.
    Your grilled octopus is always my favorite and I keep promising myself to try it. It will happen this summer!
    LL

  48. [...] specials and recommendations. After hearing the tantalizing list of choices, mezedes are ordered: grilled octopus, deep-fried calamari, salads like taramasalata, melitzanosalata, Htipiti, a Horiatiki (Greek [...]

  49. Jude says:

    Fish and any other seafood is often much better cooked and served whole. Especially fish. Great photos.

  50. Elena Q says:

    Love your Blog, you help me a lot in my next culinary exam.

  51. [...] of you will not have access to smoked octopus but you can add some grilled octopus (one of my faves) in to the mix or another smoked fish like eel, mackerel, trout or sardines. Make [...]

  52. [...] my favourite way to enjoy octopus is grilled, I adore it in all forms and today, we’re having it “Kokkinisto” or reddened [...]

  53. [...] are virtually foolproof and he provides great cultural background with each post. I followed his recipe for Greek grilled octopus, with some small variations endemic to my own [...]

  54. Sarah says:

    interesting about the cork, learned something new today

  55. Clif says:

    Peter, Just wanted to let you know that I grilled octopus last night following your guidance. It turned out wonderfully perfect! I have never been to Greece but my wife has and said the octopus was just as good as any she had while visiting. I’ve only had grilled octopus in Tarpon Springs, Florida, U.S.A., when I was visiting there. There is a large Greek community there and you can have grilled octopus fresh from the gulf. Yum! I, being in central New York state, had to use frozen but it was just as delicious as the fresh I had in Tarpon Springs. I think luck was on my side, since I wanted to grill the octopus with some lamb chops on Saturday evening but got rained out. So the octopus got to marinade in its own juices and a little red wine and oregano for an extra day. I also used the cork, which I will continue to do. I think another reason that it turned out so well is that I put it on the charcoal grill which made it nice and smokey and crispy. I’m sure it would work fine on a gas grill or even in the broiler. While I was doing the octopus and then the lamb on the charcoal grill, I used the gas grill with a pizza stone to make some pitas. It was a lovely meal and I thank you for your awesome instruction/recipe for preparing the octopus. You rock! I love your blog too, I can’t believe that I’ve just now found it. I look forward to many more culinary adventures inspired by your site. Thanks again, Clif.

  56. patty says:

    I too tried this recipe and it was heavenly! It was easy to prepare, I used the cork, and the octopus was tender& delicious. I am really enjoying browsing your recipes (I too am of Greek Canadian descent) and plan on trying more of your meals. Thanks!

  57. ilene says:

    Made this tonight for dinner, and placed over a dandelion salad with cannelini beans and a green olive viniagrette…..ABSOLUTELY DEILICIOUS!

  58. Heidi says:

    Great article, I love the history and story-telling feel of it,, I cooked it just the way you stated here and it is SUPER tender. Just perfect. Thank you!

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