While octopus has gained popularity on many seafood menus over the past few years, many chefs and restaurateurs have found it challenging to cook: leave it on the heat for too long and it becomes a rubbery, inedible chunk. While fresh seafood is always a good idea, extremely fresh dishes like Korean san-nakji can get a little too frisky for even the most adventurous palates.
But with the ideas of running the gamut from Japanese takoyaki to the myriad ceviches of South America, octopus done right can be pure culinary pleasure for both the chefs and the diners.
For tapas and pintxos, many bars in Spain cook octopus by grilling it until sweet and tender, then cutting it into bite-sized pieces, speared onto cocktail-picks with briny olives and slivers of roasted bell pepper, and later serve it as an appetizer or a partner to a glass of sangria. While in Japan, they take the notion of single mouthfuls further with the famous Osaka dumplings known as takoyaki, where tender octopus chunks are cooked within a sphere of savory batter.
Here is an example of a modern grilled octopus recipe that you can try in your restaurant:
As a main course, octopus can serve as a visual showstopper. Take a cue from restaurants in the Mediterranean where they serve a single grilled tentacle plated on either a bed of crisp salad greens or a rich puree made with potatoes or pulses. This dish is then dressed tableside with good olive oil, fresh herbs, and either a squeeze of citrus or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Likewise, smaller octopi can be poached, grilled, and then served similarly.
Tender raw octopus slices served as sushi topping in Japan for quite a long time, as well as a popular inclusion on mixed sashimi platters. Many South American nations, Peru in particular, also use the cephalopod as an ingredient for ceviche where the seafood is “cooked” in an acidic dressing compounded from citrus juice or vinegar and aromatic elements like shallots, ginger, and cilantro. A similar dish, Insalata di polpo, is served in Venice, Italy, as a part of a selection of Cicchetti – small plates served with wine and cocktails.
While many chefs and diners are familiar with octopus in its grilled and fresh forms, not many are aware that we can make it into hearty, substantial mains such as chowders and stews. Portugal has its polvo guisado where they cook chunks of octopus to a thick stew with tomatoes and wine. In the Philippines, the octopus is treated like squid in the kitchen and turned into ginataang pugita (octopus braised with red and green chilies in coconut milk) or cooked in adobo-style in its ink. Octopus is also a great addition to seafood-heavy paella or a topping for pasta.