New year, new kitchen techniques!
Happy New Year! I rang in the new year by preparing fresh octopus for the first time in my life. I know some would consider octopus to be an adventurous food and honestly, I’d never considered tackling it myself. It’s always been one of the foods I leave to the restaurants. Then, as we were doing our grocery shopping over the weekend, Omar spotted some fresh octopus in the seafood section.
While I know the basics in selecting fresh fish, I don’t know much about selecting fresh octopus. Despite our ignorance, I was willing to give it a try. New year, new kitchen adventures, right? Our instincts told us the octopus was fresh: there was no fishy odor and the octopus was glistening.
After bringing the octopus home, I set out to prepare it. The internet is filled with tips for tenderizing the octopus, whether it’s the Greek method of beating the octopus against rocks, an Australian’s tip to soak the octopus in milk or yogurt, or the Japanese advice to rub the octopus with salt and daikon. Americans seem to advise buying the octopus frozen, since the freezing to believed to break down some of the fibers and tenderize the meat. Uh, but what if it is fresh? It seems counterintuitive to freeze it first.
Anyhoo, before I got to cooking the octopus, I knew I needed to clean the octopus. I just didn’t know how to do it. After some internet reading on cleaning the octopus, I was ready.
Let me be clear, this is an easy, but messy process. Cleaning a fresh octopus requires getting your hands dirty, er, a bit slimy.
How to Clean Fresh Octopus in 10 Steps
STEP 1: Fill a large bowl with cold water, then set aside. We’ll use this bowl for rinsing as needed.
STEP 2: Rinse the octopus under cold running water and place it on a cutting board.
STEP 3: Using a sharp knife, cut off the head of the octopus underneath the eyes.
STEP 4: Then slice off the section with the eyes, since most people don’t want to eat this section.
STEP 5: Take the head and make a vertical slit from the middle of the head to the bottom.
STEP 6: Remove the guts with your hands. This is where you get your hands dirty. The guts are attached at three 3-4 points with some connective tissue and you’ll need to use our fingers to separate the innards. Use the bowl of water you prepared in step 1 to rinse of the pieces and your hands if it gets a little messy. Discard the innards and rinse the remaining piece.
STEP 7: After the innards are removed, separate the skin at the base of the head and remove the skin. This was easier to do than I expected. The skin is a bit tough after cooking so removing it now will make sure you get a more tender piece.
STEP 8: Make some small slits cross-wise into the meat. This will also help tenderize the octopus. Once finished, set aside.
STEP 9: Next, you need to remove the beak. Take the section with the tentacles and flip it over so that the suction cups are exposed, the simply press out the beak found in the center. The beak feels like a small piece of round, thin, plastic. I read that you can cut this piece out with a paring knife, but I found that unnecessary. I was able to press it out gently with my fingers.
STEP 10: Separate the tentacles one by one to create bit sized pieces. I found this easier to do by cutting towards the middle to separate the tentacles, rather then starting in the middle and cutting outward. Repeat and rinse as needed until all of the tentacles are separated.
It’s really not a hard thing to do once you get used to handling the octopus. Once cleaned, you can prepare you octopus in any number of ways. I simply poached the octopus in some white wine, garlic, and vinegar before grilling it. To be honest, my recipe was just so-so. The octopus was tender, but the flavors were a little too acidic and not balanced. Since it wasn’t stellar, I’m not sharing the recipe here, but I hope these simple steps come in handy the next time you are looking to prepare fresh octopus. Good luck!