The secret on how to cook octopus [+ best Asian octopus dishes to try]
Do you like the taste of octopus? I’m sure you’ve probably thought about cooking it at home but you might not know exactly how to do it.
Many people are wary of cooking octopus at home mainly because it’s hard to get it right.
There’s actually a lot of misinformation about how to cook octopus and what the best practices are.
But if it’s well cooked, it has an amazing delightful taste, almost soft and tender like butter. If, however, it’s not cooked right, it is chewy and rubbery and not very pleasant to eat.
The thing about cooking octopus is that you have to boil it first and only after should you cook it in another way or use it in your dish.
You can cook fresh or frozen octopus but the trick is to be patient and let it boil thoroughly with a slow simmer. Cooking octopus is not intimidating as long as you boil it long enough for the chewy collagen to turn into gelatin, it will be tender and ready for roasting, stewing, frying, grilling, and even pickling.
Let the octopus cool down to room temperature before you cut and slice it and voila – you have the perfect meat.
In this post, I’m going to tell you how to cook octopus and then discuss the best Asian octopus dishes.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 How do you cook octopus so it’s not chewy?
- 2 Cooking the octopus: step by step instructions
- 3 What is octopus meat like?
- 4 What is Japanese octopus called (tako)?
- 5 List of best Asian dishes with octopus
- 6 Takeaway
How do you cook octopus so it’s not chewy?
People always ask how do you cook an octopus? I think this is a very fair question because the animal has such a unique texture.
It’s like squid but not really, and you can’t cook it sliced, it needs to be cooked whole. These things tend to turn people off from trying to cook this sea creature at home.
Some people go to extreme lengths to ensure the octopus is tender and not chewy.
But actually, many of these extreme measures are unnecessary because you can cook an octopus with the perfect texture on your stovetop – no gimmicks required!
The goal is to slow simmer the octopus until that chewy and hard collagen in the flesh turns into a tender and soft gelatin. That’s when you know it’s well cooked.
Patience is the key here and a long slow boil will give the octopus an amazing silky texture. Boiling is the first step to cooking the octopus.
Once boiled, you can then cook it in vegetable oil, or use it in a stir-fried dish and lather a savory soy sauce on it.
Cooking the octopus: step by step instructions
- Large pot (big enough to fit the octopus)
- 2.5 lb (or 1 kg) octopus rinsed and cleaned
- cold water
- If you're using a fresh uncleaned octopus, you have to wash it and remove the ink sac as well as the internal organs and head.
- Grab a paring knife and cut around the beak following a circular pattern. Pull the beak and the organs that are stuck to it will come out too.
- Then, you need a large pot that can fit the whole octopus.
- Place the octopus in the pot and cover it completely with cold water.
- Turn the heat on a high setting until the water comes to a simmer.
- Turn the heat to medium-low (190 - 200 F) and let it simmer for at least 75 minutes.
- Take a paring knife and pierce a tentacle to check if it's well done. If the knife pierces the flesh smoothly and easily, the meat is ready.
- If not, keep simmering, up to 120 minutes total. Do not overcook it though.
How do you know if the octopus is cooked?
To ensure that the meat is well cooked, you have to do a texture check. The octopus must be very tender.
So, you need to get a sharp paring knife and press it into the thickest part of the flesh – one of the tentacles is a good place to poke.
If it goes into the flesh easily, the meat is perfectly cooked. If it feels hard, it needs to boil for longer.
What is octopus meat like?
Octopus meat is a seafood that has a similar texture and taste to squid. But, it’s actually healthier and nutritious so you can eat plenty of it guilt-free!
What makes octopus unique is its texture. It has those long tentacles which are smooth on the inside. The meat actually is a bit chewy but not rough.
Since the animal has a relatively healthy diet of shellfish, it has a pleasant mildly sweet flavor, not the classic fishy taste most people expect.
Its skin has a dark purple kind of color which wraps the white milky meat. The good news is that the skin is edible too.
Once cooked properly, the meat takes on a translucent beige and pinkish color.
Can you overcook octopus?
Yes, it’s possible to overcook octopus and it even happens to amateur chefs.
If you overcook it, it becomes very dry and loses most of that delicious sweet flavor and you won’t be happy once you serve a rubbery dry piece of meat.
Do you need to remove the skin from the octopus?
No, you don’t have to remove the skin from the octopus because it is edible. It has a gelatinous texture and becomes a bit sticky. It also adds lots of flavor to the octopus stock when you boil it.
However, most people prefer to eat octopus without the skin. It’s best to remove it after it’s boiled because it’s easier to peel off. Also, your plate will look more aesthetically pleasing without gelatinous skin.
How do you tenderize octopus?
The worst thing is spending money on fresh or frozen octopus and then ending up with a cooked octopus that tastes rubbery and chewy – it’s not fun to eat and very unappetizing.
But did you know that you can actually tenderize octopus so it tastes good when you serve it?
The top method of cooking octopus is to simmer it slowly. But, if it requires more tenderizing, there are some ways to do it:
This method applies to frozen octopuses.
- Let it thaw in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
- Then, bring a pot of water to a hard boil. Make sure you DO NOT add salt.
- Place your whole octopus in the boiling water, cover the pot with a lid and bring it back to a boil.
- A very small baby octopus that fits in your hand needs to boil for approximately 2 minutes for blanching.
- Octopus that has a medium size (less than 1/2 lbs) needs to boil for about 5 minutes.
- A large octopus that weighs about 5 lbs needs to boil for 9-10 minutes.
Marinate with milk
You don’t often hear of combining seafood and milk, but if you marinate the whole octopus in milk overnight, it will make the meat taste very tender.
When you simmer your octopus slowly, you can add 1 tablespoon of vinegar into the boiling water. Vinegar contains acetic acid and this effectively breaks down the octopus’ connective tissue which is located in its tentacles. This makes the tentacles softer and easier to eat.
This should only be done when you are very pressed for time. Place the octopus in the pressure cooker and let it cook for between 15-20 minutes.
To check if it’s done, place a knife where the head meets the legs and if your knife goes in smoothly and doesn’t get stuck, the meat is ready.
Still looking for a good pressure cooker? I’ve reviewed the best options here (and how to use them)
Tenderize with a rolling pin
Grab a large ziplock bag that fits your octopus. Then, place the octopus in your bag. Take the rolling pin and press firmly all over the tentacles with the rolling pin.
The trick here is to maintain the shape so only go over each tentacle a few times so as not to flatten it.
Fresh vs frozen octopus
Can I cook octopus from frozen? This is quite a common question people have and rightly so. It would seem that frozen octopus is hard to cook but the reality is quite the opposite.
Once the frozen octopus is thawed, it becomes very tender and quicker than the fresh octopus.
Usually, the freezing process has a negative impact on the seafood texture and flavor, especially with fish. But, with seafood like squid and octopus, it’s the opposite.
Frozen octopus is not only easier to find, but it’s also easier to cook and it’s likely to have that perfect buttery soft tender texture.
Fresh octopus is extremely tasty. It is packed with that seafood flavor and has a slightly chewy but tender texture.
Before you buy it though, make sure it doesn’t have a fishy smell because this indicates that it has been sitting for some time and isn’t fresh.
Which part of the octopus can you eat?
Not all parts of an octopus are edible, and it’s the same with chicken and other animals too.
Before eating and cooking, you must have the octopus cleaned.
You can eat the head, the tentacles, and the skin. The head is also edible but most people don’t like the look and taste of it. It is very slimy but if you cook it well, it doesn’t taste slimy anymore.
The parts you cannot eat are the intestines, the beak, and the ink. These have to be cleaned out.
Frozen octopus is cleaned but if you buy the whole animal at the fishmongers fresh, you can ask them to remove the undesired parts or take out the organs at home.
How long does cooked octopus last?
Usually, you can keep the cooked octopus in the fridge for up to 3 days max.
However, it’s best served fresh and tender.
Best pre-cooked octopus
If you’re looking to buy pre-cooked octopus to make life simpler, be on the lookout for El Rey Del Pulpo, Large Cooked Octopus Tentacles, 14 oz which you can find in large supermarkets like Costco.
Online you can find tenderized octopus tentacles from Gullo Specialty Foods.
This is octopus from Spain and it’s already boiled so you can use it on the grill, fry it, or cook it any way you want.
Best octopus in olive oil
Here my favorite is Matiz Pulpo Wild-Caught Pulpo Spanish Octopus in Olive Oil. It can be eaten straight from the tin, or slightly fried up with some chili or lemon.
There’s also a really tasty recipe for octopus in olive oil, lemon, and oregano. Another variation of this dish with chili herb oil and is a great way to enjoy spicy octopus.
Europeans tend to cook grilled octopus with olive oil and all kinds of seasonings. In Asian cuisine, fried octopus is more popular.
What is Japanese octopus called (tako)?
In the Japanese language, octopus is called tako.
Out of the hundreds of octopus species in the world, about 60 of them are in the waters around Japan. That’s why tako has such an important role in Japanese cuisine.
Did you know that Japanese people eat the most octopus in the world?
That’s right, Japan consumes about 160.000 tonnes of octopus each year. It’s a lot and makes up approximately 2/3 of all the octopus consumed in the world.
List of best Asian dishes with octopus
There are plenty of delicious Asian recipes with octopus meat. It’s quite a popular food, especially in Japan.
When deep-fried, it’s often combined with spicy sauce, garlic ginger paste, and chili paste. But, you can also try salads, raw baby octopus, grilled and stir-fried versions.
Let’s take a look at Asia’s most popular octopus recipes.
Takoyaki (Octopus balls) (Japan)
Also called octopus balls, takoyaki is a popular Japanese snack. They are little deep-fried batter balls with a soft octopus meat filling.
Takoyaki is made of an egg batter, filled with diced octopus pieces, and deep-fried in a special round mold pan.
Then it’s topped with tasty toppings, like tenkasu (tempura), bonito flakes, green onion, pickled ginger, and dipped into a delicious takoyaki sauce.
Tako Karaage (Deep-fried Octopus) (Japan)
Deep-fried octopus is one of the tastiest recipes to try if you love fried foods.
To make this dish, the octopus is cut into roughly chopped pieces. Each piece is marinated and seasoned with soy sauce and sake for 10 to 20 minutes.
Then, the marinated pieces are coated with a mixture of flour and potato starch and deep-fried until crunchy (about 1 minute).
Tako Su (Octopus Salad) (Japan)
If you want a light and healthy meal, octopus salad (tako su) is a delicious option.
It’s a common Japanese appetizer and is made with sashimi-grade fresh octopus. But, don’t let the word sashimi fool you – it’s still made of boiled octopus.
The meat is sliced into very thin strips and mixed with cucumber, wakame, and some toasted sesame seeds. A light salad dressing is added which brings out the natural flavors of the octopus meat.
The vinaigrette is made of rice vinegar, soy sauce, salt, and sugar.
Tako Nigiri Sushi (Japan)
If you love sushi and octopus, this dish is a must-try!
It is a traditional Japanese sushi roll made with vinegared sushi rice with a tako topping (slices of octopus).
Then it’s rolled with a bit of seaweed. This sushi has a very mild flavor with a sweet and sour aroma. It’s a bit chewier than other sushi rolls because of the octopus.
Tako Sushi is served with soy sauce for dipping, some wasabi, and pickled ginger (here’s how to make that yourself).
Sannakji is a traditional Korean dish and refers to raw baby octopus. It’s chopped into smaller pieces and then topped with sesame oil and sesame seeds.
If you don’t like raw fish and raw seafood this isn’t the dish for you. It has a sticky and chewy texture and a salty flavor.
In some cases, the tentacles are still twitching and that surely puts some people off!
Usually, this dish is served at Japanese street food stalls and sold with some green tea or ssamjang.
Nakji-bokkeum or Ojingeo bokkeum (Spicy stir-fried octopus) (Korea)
Winter is Korea’s octopus season since all the stores stock it fresh and frozen. The most popular dish is a juicy spicy octopus stir-fry with spicy chili, sweet and sour sauce, and a lot of healthy vegetables.
It’s also known as fiery octopus because this dish is quite spicy.
A small octopus is used for this dish because it is very tender and easy to cut up into bite-sized pieces.
Some people prefer jookoomi (baby octopus) for the recipe but gochugaru (red chili pepper flakes) is the star ingredient in this dish.
It’s safe to say Koreans prefer spicy octopus, just like they like their food spicier in general compared to the Japanese.
Adobong pugita (Philippines)
This dish is a Filipino classic, made from a larger and older animal, not a baby octopus.
The octopus is cooked in a savory soy sauce and vinegar mixture with some garlic, onion, bay leaves, and vegetable oil or sesame oil.
After the meat is marinated it’s sauteed with some garlic and onion on high heat. Salt and pepper are used to season the meat and then the octopus is served alongside steamed rice.
Grilled baby octopus
Grilled baby octopus is popular in many Asian countries. In fact, it’s considered to be a delicacy because the meat is very tender and takes a lot less time to cook.
The meat is grilled on a charcoal grill and then served with a dipping sauce.
Nuoc Cham is a popular Vietnamese dipping sauce. It’s made of many delicious ingredients, including olive oil, fish sauce, lime juice, sambal oelek, mint leaves, cilantro, spring onion, garlic, and a pinch of sugar.
If you’ve been too scared to buy and cook octopus at home, I hope this article has shown you that it’s actually not that hard to do.
Just remove the organs on fresh octopus or use pre-cleaned frozen octopus and boil it between 1 and 2 hours and you’ll have the most tender meat that’s ready for the frying pan or grill.
If you’re looking for recipe inspiration, why not give one of the famous Asian recipes a try?
Cooking octopus is not as mystifying as it’s believed to be and the truth is, you don’t need to be a professional chef to make it for your family.
Still not convinced though? You can also make takoyaki without the octopus if you’d like
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.