Discovering Sous Vide
As a child, I used to dislike octopus. It tasted fine, of course, but the way it felt in my mouth was always too chewy. It was like eating an eraser. A cooked eraser, mind you, and one that was breaded and fried and dipped in some sort of sauce, but an eraser nonetheless. Not my favorite.
When I grew up, I branched out from cheap calamari. I discovered that I liked octopus a little bit more. It still wasn’t my favorite, but the texture somehow improved when it was served in different ways. The taste left enough of an impression that I began to search for a way to “fix” the way octopus felt in my mouth.
I found the answer in college. I purchased a sous vide apparatus to solve the taste/texture matrix of more traditional land based meats. By applying a similar technique to octopus, I could turn the rubbery texture I had hated as a child into something more palatable.
Like any tough section of meat, octopus tentacles are stuffed full of collagen. This is the stuff that gives them the rubbery texture that bothers me so much. Under high heat (above 160 F), collagen begins to dissolve and become gelatin (which is soft and silky). This process can take several hours.
This is why sous vide is so perfect here. It allows us to dial in a temperature high enough to dissolve collagen but not too high to dry out our octopus. Since there’s no need to stir or watch the machine, waiting for eight hours for the process to finish isn’t a big deal.
The result? Soft, silky octopus that doesn’t feel rubbery at all.
You have a LOT of control when it comes to time and heat. Higher heat means softer octopus. Longer time means softer octopus. Anything above 140 will begin to denature collagen (but not dissolve it) while temps between 160 and 190 will dissolve collagen outright. Experiment with different combinations.
Here are a few that we tried:
140 F for 24 hours: tender but still a bit chewy. Perfect to add texture to soups.
170 F for 5 hours: silky and tender. A moderate middle ground.
180 F for 5 hours: just enough bite to still be the main course.
185 F for 24 hours: incredibly tender and soft. Not a hint of rubber.
Preparing the octopus
I’m not the biggest fan of cleaning out my own seafood. If you get a whole octopus, you’ll need to remove the guts, beak, and eyes and thoroughly clean it.
If your octopus was previously frozen, you probably want to blanch it. To do this, prepare an ice bath and a large pot of boiling water. Immerse the octopus in boiling water until the tentacles begin to curl (about 10 minutes for a large octopus) and then immediately transfer to the ice bath.
Next, consider doing your octopus’ makeup. This step is entirely optional, but you’ll get a much less attractive grayish color if you skip it. To dye your octopus reddish, immerse it in red cabbage or beetroot juice for 24 hours in the fridge. You can simply blend water and red cabbage or beetroot if you don’t want to fiddle with a juicer.
Wash your octopus before bagging to sous vide. You’ll want to add lots of salt and olive oil to the bag, enough to coat the octopus thoroughly. Consider adding thyme, rosemary or other spices. Seal your bags using the water immersion method or your favorite vacuum sealing technique. If you’re using sous vide bags, one layer is enough, but if you’re using heavy duty Ziploc be sure to double bag.
After you’ve bagged up your octopus, stick it in your sous vide machine at your chosen temperature for your chosen time.
Finishing the octopus
When your timer goes off, carefully remove your octopus from the water bath. Take it out of the bag and discard the liquid. You’ll usually want to pat the octopus dry and remove any unsightly bits.
If you want, you can be done here. Most cooks prefer to sear or char the octopus before serving, however.
1. Brush the octopus with a bit more olive oil.
2. Get your skillet or grill really, really hot.
3. Stick the octopus on until it begins to color. You’re not cooking anything, you’re just crisping up the outside.
4. Turn the octopus until the outside is crisped to your liking.
You’re done! Consider serving with a vinaigrette, a bit of sea salt, some spices or any other seasoning you like.
The way you like it
This recipe provides quite a few variations. Texture is very much an individual preference, and sous vide gives you lots of control over exactly how the texture of your octopus comes out.
Be sure to try more than one combination of time and temperature to figure out how you prefer your octopus to be served.
Octopus (whole or just tentacles)
Sealable plastic bags for sous vide
(optional) cabbage or beetroot (for color)
(optional) rosemary, thyme or other spices
This detailed primer teaches you how to get the perfect texture out of your octopus every time. Enjoy this delightful delicacy as a main course, on top of a salad, or in a soup.
Ever wondered about the science behind sous vide? This recipie gives you all the tools you need to experiment with breaking down collagens to get the perfect texture from your octopus.