What Does Octopus Taste Like? And A Guide To Cooking It
As one of the oldest living creatures in the world, the octopus is an enigma in itself. It is a daunting creature that amazes us with not just its appearance and intelligence but also its tremendous defense mechanisms. Due to its size and its formidable reputation, an octopus isn’t a very common ingredient in most dishes. In fact, it is almost non-existent in many cuisines around the world.
Though its reputation may say otherwise, an octopus is truly a delicacy to eat, when it is prepared and cooked the right way. You do need to put in a lot of extra effort to prepare an octopus, but the end result is truly worth it. Since, a lot of people and cultures have never even tried cooking an octopus, it is difficult to find authentic recipes and a full flavor profile for this sea animal. So, what does octopus taste like? Read on to find the answer.
Octopus vs. Squid
Before jumping into details of how to cook an octopus, we must debunk a common misunderstanding; calamari is not octopus. A lot of people think that calamari, which is actually a type of squid, is an octopus. An octopus is different from a squid both in terms of texture and cooking quality. They might taste similar but the two are completely different sea animals. Making this distinction is important because a lot of restaurants and sea food sellers try to sell off calamari dressed as an octopus.
Squids are more commonly found in most cuisines (especially Thai and Japanese) and they are eaten in a number of ways; squid ink is used to color black pasta. Octopi are less commonly consumed and only their tentacles are deemed fit to be eaten but they are really good for your health.
Finding And Buying Octopi
Technically, octopi can be found in almost all parts of the world, but the best kind is said to be found in Portugal. However, many people believe that the best octopi are actually found in the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal just ends up fishing them out the most. Another famous variety of octopi comes from the Mediterranean and Asia. Since octopi are eaten as a staple in different parts of Asia, especially the Philippines and Japan, the widest variety of octopi are from this region.
In other parts of the world, especially the western world, octopi are largely available in frozen form. The frozen octopi are either available whole or you can get just the tentacles as well. Some brands also sell pre-cooked and packaged octopi, which are mostly used by novice cooks or people who only want to add octopi to their salads and condiments.
Octopi are available in a number of sizes; baby octopi weigh around six ounces, but they are difficult to find everywhere and are expensive. 12 to 16- ounce octopi are more readily available and are reasonable to serve a small group of people. Larger octopi are in the 2 to 4- pound range but they are only available fresh, you can’t find them in stores.
When buying fresh octopus, be sure to check the smell; fresh octopus should only smell of the sea. If there is any other odor, the octopus has likely gone bad. When buying frozen octopi, keep in mind that they shrink considerably when cooked. Usually, two to three pounds of octopus feeds four people.
Preparing And Cooking Octopi
One of the dominant reasons, octopi aren’t that famous among home cooks, is that they are very tricky to prepare and cook. Fresh octopus needs to be cleaned and cut before it is cooked.
Cleaning octopus is a meticulous chore, but it isn’t a difficult one; you need to remove all the innards of the octopus and then rinse it. We recommend you get the fish monger to do the cleaning for you when you buy fresh octopus. Frozen octopus is already cleaned and processed.
Once cleaned, an octopus will look like a deflated sac with tentacles. Now comes the daunting part of actually cooking the octopus. This process seems unnerving because octopi are really tough and take some time and technique to tender. You can tenderize octopi in a number of ways but we recommend using the simmering method.
Almost all octopi dishes start with simmering the octopus. You do this by immersing the entire octopus into the liquid of your choice (usually water and red wine are used) and cooking it over a low flame. This slow cooking makes sure that the octopus gets cooked evenly and also that it doesn’t overcook.
Cooking times vary according to the size of the octopus and it can take you anywhere from 30 min to 4 hours. You can easily check the tenderness of the octopus by inserting a knife into the thickest part of its body i-e where the head meets the tentacles or the “skirt”. Once tenderized, you can use the octopus in many different dishes and ways.
The Flavor Profile Of Octopi
Octopi don’t really have a distinctive taste. They tend to evolve in taste and mesh with whatever ingredients you use to prepare them. This is the reason why octopus is eaten raw in Korea. When cooked, octopus resembles the flavor profile of squids. It is chewy and crunchy and has a slight “rubbery” taste. It also has a very slight sweet under taste not as much as a lobster but close enough. It is meaty and tender and has a crunchy covering. The texture of cooked octopi resembles that of a cooked scallop.
The exact flavor of octopi depends on how you cook it; fried or grilled octopus has a similar taste to squid whereas simmered octopus tastes like lobster. Some people also say that an octopus almost tastes like chicken when it is cooked with olive oil.
We tried cooking octopi in different ways and got a different taste every time. You can try these recipes out too.
Octopi may be a staple in many parts of the world but to us, they are a delicacy. Because they aren’t the easiest to clean and prepare, we suggest you buy them frozen. Also, use some tenderizing techniques to make sure you don’t end up with hard chewy octopus.
When cooked right, octopi match the flavor profile of a lobster. This tender and crunchy delight goes well with a number of dishes and is perfect all by itself as well.
Have you cooked or had octopus before? Let us know your experience in the comments section below.