How many ways are there to prepare octopus? There’s grilled, boiled, baked, I recently tried “sous vide” (and it was fantastic) and now there is fried. Regardless of how you’re going to eat octopus the key is to tenderize it. The old-school way in Greece was to bash it on rocks at the beach, some swear by freezing it the beastie will soften, another old method is to sun-dry it…this removes much of the water, concentrates the flavour and breaks down some of the fibres – leaving you with tender octopus that need only be grilled (watch for this recipe in the summer).
My favourite way and the method available to all is to braise the octopus in its own liquid- which then allow you do do whatever you wish with it. Like any living organism, octopus is mostly made of water and when I braise it, I do not add any water into the pot as the octopus itself will release its own liquid. All I add is some aromatics like bay, maybe some allspice berries, splash of wine vinegar, parsley stems and a few cloves of garlic.
Depending on the size of the octopus, it may take anywhere from 45 to around 120 minutes (for the mammoth octopi) to become tender. How does one know when the octopus is cooled enough and tender? Simply stick a fork in one of the tentacles and it should easily slide in with little resistance. Do not overcook as the octopus becomes mealy (like an old apple) and the skin and tentacles will fall. I like the colour of octopus and especially the tentacles!
Much like grilled octopus, I liked the fried method as the outer layer is crisp and the meat is tender – so tender than one can slice the tentacles with a butter knife! One of the more popular Greek dishes is fried calamari so why not try fried octopus? I lightly dredge the octopus in a flour and corn starch combo then simply fried it about 1 inch of olive oil until just crisp.
Since it’s early Spring there are no good sources of summer vegetables but the cauliflower toursi I made last week is a wonderful contrast to tender octopus that just scream for some acidity. Fry the octopus, served alongside your favourite pickled veggies (like a jardiniere) and enjoy with some Ouzo on ice. This meze is a great offering for those looking for crispy octopus but either you don’t have a grill or you’re not up for grilling. Fried octopus to the rescue!
(makes a meze for 4)
1 uncooked octopus (thawed from frozen is fine)
3 bay leaves
4-5 allspice berries
splash of wine vinegar
handful of chopped parsley stems
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. of corn starch
oil for frying
- Rinse your octopus and divide the octopus but cutting off the tentacles from the head into 8 equal parts. The head is also very edible, just check to see if the beak is still attached – just use your finger to pop it out and discard.
- Now place the octopus in a pot with the bay, allspice, vinegar, parsley and garlic and cover. Turn the heat on to medium to medium-high and don’t touch for 5-7 minutes. Now uncover and check if there’s a bout an inch of water in the pot. If so, reduce the heat to medium to medium-low and cover and braise for about 45 minutes (for smaller octopus) to about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours for most large octopus. Slide a knife into the tentacles to test for doneness (much like checking a potato if its cooked). Once tender, remove from the heat, take out of the liquid and allow to cooled completely.
- To fry the octopus, no seasoning is required as its already briny in taste. Mix your flour with corn starch in a bowl and place about 1 inch of oil in your fryer or cast-iron pan. Dredge the tentacles in flour (slice the head into rings they resemble calamari rings) and once the oil is hot, fry until just golden and crispy.
- Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper-lined plate. Serve with caulflower toursi, some good crusty bread and Ouzo on ice.
. All rights reserved.