Octopus Head Recipe: from yuck to yum

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

What lives in the ocean, has eight legs, a round head, and a knack for scaring the living daylights outta people? You’re right, it’s an octopus! This sea creature truly is a wonder. When it’s not entertaining you at an aquarium, it’s scaring you in a voyage-themed horror movie or simmering softly on the stove, getting ready to be dinner.

Can you eat Octopus Head?

I’m sure you’ve heard of people who eat octopus-like, put it in their mouths and chew it raw kind of eat – and you’ve probably also wondered what parts of the octopus are actually edible and what parts are not. You can eat the head, the arms i.e tentacles, and other body parts but you can’t eat the intestines, ink, and beak. I repeat, yes, you can eat the head of an octopus.

What does an octopus taste like? This is a question that gets tossed around a lot and for a very good reason. People often think that the octopus is slimy and tough to eat. Why, that’s true – for a raw octopus. But once cooked, the octopus head doesn’t taste slimy. If it’s tough, that means that it is undercooked.

An octopus tastes more like chicken than seafood (e.g crab). Cooked octopus has kind of the same texture of a lobster or a large prawn. However, the taste of an octopus will ultimately be influenced by whatever seasoning you use and also the cooking methods you employ.

How to Prepare Octopus

It’s not that complicated really and this recipe is here to guide you and give you an octopus head meal you’ll never forget.

The first thing you should note about an octopus is that it is protean. This means that it is versatile. It can be cooked in a diverse number of ways, can be used in different exotic dishes, it isn’t peculiar to any one culture and most importantly, it is delicious. It could be boiled, seared, grilled, stir-fried, fried, served with pasta or salad, made into stew or soup, or even turned into barbecue. The list is endless. All you need is a basic knowledge of how to work an octopus and then let the chef in you go wild.

Another important point to note about the octopus is that contrary to popular opinion, it’s actually very easy to cook (as opposed to chicken or pork) and it takes less time (not always, though).

Different cultures around the globe have different ways of cooking their octopus (one culture actually eats the octopus raw!

Just imagine a tentacle slapping its way down your throat), but they all generally feature the following steps:

  • Get the octopus
  • Clean the octopus
  • Boil the octopus, this is where you’ll need the recipe I’ve got for you.

Get the octopus. This is a very important step as eating the wrong octopus can haunt you forever and affect your descendants. Lol, I’m just kidding. But seriously, octopuses aren’t all that hard to get. Just go to your local fish market and get one.

It could be frozen or fresh.

Here’s a fun fact: the octopus is one meal where buying the frozen version is actually better than buying it fresh. This is because the frozen type is already cleaned and you don’t have to go through all that slime-stress cleaning it up. The frozen type is rarer and more expensive though (no pain, no gain huh?). If you are able to get only the fresh version, no problem. It will work just as fabulously only that you’ll have to do the cleaning yourself (or pay a fishmonger to do it).

A quick tip: fresh not-frozen octopus is highly slippery and smells like the ocean. If the octopus you’re about to buy smells like fish, then it’s probably already gone bad. Now that we have our frozen or not octopus, let’s move on to the next step.

Clean the octopus. Like I said above, if the octopus is coming straight out-of-the-ocean fresh, it’s going to need some major cleaning. This step can be skipped with frozen octopus as it already comes clean. So to clean, make sure your hands are clean and put the octopus in a clean bowl.

  1. Make a deep incision on the ink sac of the octopus at eye level using a kitchen knife. Cut off the eyes (and as you won’t eat it, throw it out).
  2. Remove the beak and the ink underneath.
  3. Turn the head inside out and remove the intestines. It should come off easily. Peel off the skin inside the head.
  4. Pour salt on the octopus. This will help remove the dirt and reduce the slime coat on the body of the octopus.
  5. After you’ve poured the salt, massage the octopus. Work the salt into every nook and cranny and massage thoroughly. This will make the octopus tender. Then rinse under running water. Another quick tip: after you are done cleaning, you can beat the octopus with a kitchen hammer to make it more tender.
  6. Repeat salt and massage. Massage for a few minutes, taking special care to clean the suckers on the tentacles. Then rinse thoroughly, still under running water. At this point, you can beat the octopus with the kitchen hammer to make it more tender. Doing this will reduce the amount of time the octopus will spend on the stove.

Octopus Recipes

There are a number of recipes on the different ways you can cook your octopus head. However, boiling the octopus is a favorite way and your recipe for boiling an octopus is down below. The octopus has a natural dull white color and a jelly-like feel to it. This is because the octopus does not have a skeletal framework to make it sturdy like humans or some fishes do. So the body of the octopus tends to just lay flat.

When the octopus is boiled, the heat congeals the body and makes it strong and firm and less squiggly to eat. Some people just grill or sear their octopus straight away after cleaning, but I like to boil first.

  1. Fill a pot with water up to three-quarter of the pot and set to boil over medium heat.
  2. When the water is boiled, gently dip your octopus tentacles first into the water. Don’t let it stay too long – just dip and remove. This will allow the tentacles to coil. Repeat up to three times. Quick tip: if you put your octopus in the freezer for a bit before you used it or if it came frozen, it is important to do this before boiling because the swift change in temperature (from cold to hot) is not good for the octopus.
  3. Gently place the octopus into the water to boil.
  4. Midway through the cooking, turn the octopus over and again so that all sides can be evenly cooked. The time it takes the octopus to become tender depends on the intensity of heat you’re using and the size of the octopus. It can be as short as 15 mins or as long as 3 hours. To know if your octopus is tender and ready, pierce one of the tentacles with a kitchen knife. If it goes all the way through, then you’re good to go. The cooked octopus is now red in appearance and is a whole lot firm. Quick tip: save the broth! It can be used to make a great soup later.
  5. Take the octopus out of the water and rinse in cold water. This is to prevent the skin from peeling off. Some people prefer to peel the skin off. It’s completely up to you.

Quick tip: keep your octopus cold until you’re ready to use it. After cooking, the mass will be greatly reduced so bear that in mind when you’re considering the size of octopus to buy.

Octopus Recipes From Around The World

So now that we have our cooked octopus, what next? Why now the fun begins! You could do anything and I mean anything with this octopus. The octopus is a staple meal in several cultures around the globe. Let’s look at a few of them and see what ideas they give us.

Japan: This is probably the home of (raw) octopus. What does octopus taste like when you use it to make sushi or takoyaki? Still thinking about it, that’s a common dish in Japan so maybe when you visit Japan, you can try it out or make it yourself.

Korea: A delicious dish to try with your octopus in the Korean cuisine is muneo-sukhoe i.e blanched octopus. After boiling the octopus as stated above, you simply slice it up, make a dipping sauce (example, of sesame seeds) and enjoy the meaty goodness.

Maldives: Miruhulee boava is a Maldivian delicacy made of octopus tentacles seasoned with curry leaves, chili, garlic, cloves, onion, pepper, and coconut oil.

Portugal: In Portugal, the octopus is roasted with onions, potatoes, garlic, some herbs and olive oil. It can be stewed with rice, and it is called “Arroz de Polvo“.

Greece: The Greek have a special way of preparing their octopus. The octopus is made tender by hitting it against a rock or hard surface. Then it will be grilled over an open flame. It is served either hot by itself or cold in a salad.

Nutrition Value

This is very important. It doesn’t make sense to chug ourselves full of this incredible product of nature and then not live to tell the tale because of poor health choices.

Exactly how healthy is it to eat an octopus?

According to the USDA Nutrient Database (2007), cooked octopus contains about 56 Calories for every 100 grams, and is a source of vitamin B3 , B12, potassium, phosphorus, iron and selenium.

Octopus is lean and has low calories (most seafood do). For instance, a 3-ounce serving of octopus has less than 150 calories and more than 25 grams of protein. To keep your octopus healthier, low fat cooking options are ideal.

And that’s it!

Make sure you have a wonderful experience cooking your next octopus head. Here’s a hint: if your family doesn’t like an octopus, it might be a good idea not to tell them what they are eating until they are done. Trust me, they won’t believe it and it will be hilarious to see the looks on their faces.

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Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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