[Photograph: Liz Clayman]
Why cook octopus sous vide? There are a few reasons. First, it’s foolproof: just prepare your cooker and forget it for the next several hours. Second, it’s hands-off once you do the initial setup. And third, the results are absolutely excellent, producing tender octopus every single time. As long as you have the time to do it, this is one of the best ways we know.
To develop this recipe, we tested a range of temperatures, from 140°F all the way up to 185°F, and times from 5 hours up to 24. Our favorite by far was 175°F for five hours. Once cooked, this octopus is ready to be eaten warm or cold, or can be seared or grilled to crisp and brown the exterior.
Why It Works
- Quickly blanching the octopus, an optional step, helps set the tentacles into beautiful curls before they get sealed in the plastic bags.
- Breaking down the octopus in advance makes for more manageable bagging.
- 1 (2 1/2-pound; 1kg) whole octopus, rinsed well (including inside head cavity); see note
Preheat a sous vide cooker to 175°F (79°C). If you want to guarantee a good shape for the octopus tentacles (this is optional, but visually nice), bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Using tongs, dip the octopus into the water just until the tentacles hold a more rigid and graceful curl, not more than 30 seconds. Drain.
If necessary, using a sharp knife or good kitchen shears, divide the octopus into manageable portions that can be bagged more easily (small octopuses can be kept whole). You can choose how to do this: separate the tentacles individually, or keep them in clusters of 2 or 4. If you do decide to break down the octopus, remove the hard beak that sits at the point where the tentacles converge in the body, as well as the small eyes just below the pouch-like head. Make sure to bag and cook the head pouch as well; it’s not as delicious as the tentacles, but it’s still good.
Place octopus pieces in zipper-lock or vacuum bags and seal using the vacuum sealer or the displacement method.
Submerge in water and cook for 5 hours. Remove bags, chill rapidly in an ice-water bath, then refrigerate until ready to use. (Chilling helps set the skin so it doesn’t fall off later, so it’s good to do even if you’re planning to serve the octopus warm.)
To Serve Cold: Cut tentacles and head into pieces and add to a seafood salad or ceviche.
To Sear: Heat a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add octopus pieces and cook until well browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Turn and brown on other side, about 3 minutes longer. Season with salt and serve as desired.
To Grill: Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over coal grate. Alternatively, set all the burners of a gas grill to high heat. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.
Leave tentacles whole (or, if very long, cut into manageable sections); cut head meat into large pieces. Toss octopus with a tablespoon of vegetable oil, then sear over direct heat, turning, until lightly charred all over. Serve as desired.
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