[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]
People have come up with all sorts of crazy tricks for ensuring an octopus cooks up nice and tender, but most of them are unnecessary and ineffective. You don’t need an old folk method like adding a wine cork to the pot; you don’t need to beat the octopus against a rock (or with a meat pounder); and you definitely don’t need to put it in the spin cycle of your washing machine (yes, some people do that). We know because we’ve tested all of those tricks…except for the washing machine. All you really need is time; you need to cook the octopus just long enough so that the tough and chewy collagen in its flesh converts into silky and tender gelatin. Be patient, and you will be rewarded with exceptional octopus with a lovely texture, ready to be eaten as-is, or seared in a skilled or charred over hot coals on a grill.
Why It Works
- Adding the octopus to the pot of cold water yields the same results and frees you from having to wait for the water to boil.
- Cutting up the octopus after it’s cooked is easier than when it’s raw and slithery.
- 1 (2 1/2-pound; 1kg) whole octopus, rinsed well (including inside head cavity); see note
Fill a pot large enough to hold the octopus with the octopus and enough cold water to cover. Set over high heat. Bring water to a simmer, then lower heat to maintain simmer. Cook until octopus is tender enough that you can pierce the thick part of a tentacle with a paring knife with little resistance, about 1 hour; keep in mind that this time is a rough estimate, and the octopus may be done sooner or it may take longer, but it will get there.
Let octopus cool in the cooking water. Drain, wrap in plastic or store in an airtight container, and refrigerate until chilled. (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.) The octopus can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
When ready to serve, carve the octopus by cutting off the tentacles where they converge on the body. At this convergence point, you will also find the hard beak; remove it. Cut away and discard the octopus’s eyes as well. You can eat all that remains of the the tentacles and head pouch.
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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