For many years I did not dare to put my fingers on raw octopus and cook it. I always thought it was really difficult to cook it and turn the hard sea muscle tender. Being raised in a family that loved sea food I have been eating octopus since my early childhood. Even as a child I loved to chew on a grilled octopus tentacle, blended with dry oregano and olive oil, while the sourness of vinegar was tickling the back of the palate. But cooking octopus I though it was one of the most difficult things in the world. I thought it needed special cooking skills to grill it, bake it or boil it and get it tender enough without destroying its texture and turn it into a tasteless mashed baby food.. For many years, I was wrong. It’s easy like a children’s game… For many years I was wrong. I just had to ask my mom much earlier….. It’s so easy to just steam octopus in the oven!
Of course, I had one more reason avoiding cooking octopus or other seafood. It took me many years to start cooking this type of food in my own kitchen. And this, because I have “‘this thing” with raw octopus, calamari and especially fish. I can’t touch them with bate hands.
Ways to cook octopus
Octopus is a flexible product to deal with. There are many ways you can cook octopus and get it on your plate. You can boil it, baked it, grill it.
Many Greeks use to boil it first in water for one hour and then proceed with grilling or baking. Because Greeks love to eat octopus not only plain but also in a variation of companies like of onions and tomatoes (stifado), of small pasta like orzo (kritharaki) or ditali (kofto makaronaki). That is, several ingredients to accompany octopus that you will never find in my kitchen. The only concession I can do is to cook octopus with rice, red wine, bay leaf and dill – a dish my family and guests love and I personally can take one or two spoonfuls.
Nothing compares with fresh octopus, slowly being grilled over the hot charcoal. The unforgettable moment, when the salty fragrance of the sea fills the air.
Summer evening on the terrace: My friend Tereza had boiled the fresh octopus in water for an hour. In the evening, when the charcoal got the right temperature, the octopus landed on the grill for less than thirty minutes. It was twice turned so that every side gets the flavor of BBQ. I could have eaten the whole thing, had I no respect from my hosts and the other guests…
The Mystery of Tender Octopus
When I was a kid and we were spending our vacation next to the sea, my father used to fish octopus with a harpoon. With the help of galazopetra (Copper sulfate) he would lurk it from its cave. When he would reach ashore, he would spend several hours to fulfil only one task: to tenderize the octopus, by beating it on the rocks.
The process of tenderize the octopus is called “paragouliasma.” You don’t need to know this Greek word, though, because the octopus you buy has normally undergone this process. and I cannot tell you, how many times you need to beat the octopus on th rocks.
After hours in and next to the sea, my father would arrive at the summer house with a basket full of octopus for the family table. Some would be hanged to dry in the sun. Others would land directly on the charcoal and the rest would go directly in the small deep freezer. To be consumed back home.
I cannot forget my mom when we were packing to return home urging everyone “Don’t forget the octopus!!!”. “Did you get the octopus out of the freezer???” Sometimes, I was afraid my parents would leave us, kids, behind, but they would certainly get the octopus with them.
Nowadays, octopus atchers beat them on the ports cement. I have even that octopuses are beaten in huge washing machines for the mass cosnumption. (No, my mom had never let dad tenderize the octopus in our washing machine. Thanks for asking!)
The primary mystery of a tender octopus is erwith revealed: beat it as much as you can!
The second mystery is how to make it more tender during the cooking process.
Fresh or frozen?
My experience has shown that frozen octopus is always well tenderized -probably in that huge automatic octopus beating washing machine).
Fresh octopus would need longer cooking but its flavor and aroma is unbeatable.
Fresh and frozen octopus is normally sold in weight of 750gr (baby) or 1500gr. Both sizes need the same time of cooking.
If you buy frozen octopus, leave it outside the fridge overnight and thus in a large bowl to catch the melted ice water.
The art of oven steaming
I use a deep pyrex and a big piece of foil, twice the length of the oven tray. Place the octopus on the foil. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano and 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. No need to add salt.
Fold the foil over the octopus and roll the edges. Let enough space inside the foil so the steam can gather.
After an hour take the tray out of the oven and carefully (attention: Hot Steam!) open the foil cover. Cut a chunk and taste whether it’s tender enough. Normally it isn’t. Whether 2-3 tentacles or a whole octopus, whether fresh or frozen, it needs approximately one and a half hour to be ready.
After you taste, close the foil again and bring it back to over for further steaming.
Steamed in own juices. Do not throw away the juice. It gives an excellent flavor a rice dish.
When I have a whole octopus at hand, I usually cut two-three tentacles and serve them cold as appetizer. The rest will be cut into pieces and be further cooked on the stove with its’ own juice, rice, spices and fresh herbs.
Octopus with rice and herbs – the party version: served cold in small glasses
Rice octopus can be served as a warm meal. OK, in Greece, they eat everything lukewarm, but that’s another story.
Tips for a delicious octopus
I use 2-4 tentacles of cooked octopus as appetizer: cut in chunks, season with a couple of tablespoons of its natural juices, a bit of olive oil, red wine vinegar and dry oregano. Salt and pepper are not necessary.
There is also no need to take out the skin. I would die, if I had to do it. But in some countries they do it.
As I have “this thing” with raw seafood as mentioned above, I cannot remove the eye and the tooth when raw. I do it afterwards, when it’s cooked.
Do not eat more than one tentacle at a time. No matter how tender it is, your stomach may have to work overtime to digest it.
The rest of the cooked octopus I serve as main dish with rice, red wine, lemon and lots of fresh dill. But this recipe I will tell you in another blog post.
*** All pictures were shot by Cookingly Yours. Author was just too lazy to put the logo to all of them. Please, do not use them without permission.
Greek meze: Octopus
- 1.5 kilo octopus
- 1-2 tablespoon + 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 sheet of aluminium foil 80cm lenght x 30cm width
- 1 deep oven tray so it will catch the juice (I use a 12-cm deep pyrex 30cm long x 20 cm wide
- 1-2 teaspoon vinegar (best: red wine vinegar)
- As I use a pyrex tray I do not preheat the oven.
- Wash the octopus under cold water.
- Let it dry in a drainer.
- Lay the aluminium foil inside the pyrex with some 10 cm to poke out from the tray’s one side.
- Lay the octopus in the middle.
- Springle with 1-2 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon oregano.
- Fold the foil over the octopus and wrap the edges tight. However leave enough space inside the foil hull so that steam can gather.
- Turn on the oven to 200 C.
- Bake for one hour and 10 minutes.
- Take the tray out of the oven.
- Open the one side of the foil but very carefully, otherwise the hot steam may burn your face.
- Cut a chunk from the thick part of a tentacle, i.c. near the body blase.
- Taste its tenderness. If it is tender the whole octopus is ready. As mentioned above, the tenderness of octopus depends on ‘unpredictable’ factors.
- Close the foil again and put it back in the oven.
- When ready, take it form the oven and open the foil a little so that steam can escape.
- Take the octopus out and cut into 2-3 cm thick pieces.
- Arrange them on a plate.
- Spinkle with 2-3 tablespoon of its juices, the rest of oilive oil, the oregano and the vinegar.
- Do not throw away the rest of the juices. But keep them for a later use.
- Serve the octopus appetizer cold.
Tagged: all about cooking octopus, appetizer, baked, easy, Greek food, Greek htapodi meze, Greek meze, Greek octopus, Greek style octopus, octopus, oven, starter, steaming in the oven, χταποδακι μεζες