Cooking with Octopus

Cooking with Octopus

There are several species of octopus which inhibit the waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. The domain of Octopus aegina Gray extends from the Red Sea to the western Pacific. This species is brown on its body and arms with a double row of suckers on the underside of each arm. A slightly inferior species, Octopus macropus Risso (even more widespread), is distinguished by single rows of suckers and longer, thinner arms. The Chinese call it sui gwai or "water ghost".

The major commercial octopus in the Asian market is Cistopus indicus which is brown or grey in color and identifiable by an iridescent green on the underside of its mantle.

Purchasing and storing : Usually sold whole, so it is easy to judge size and state of freshness. Buy small octopus if possible, with firm flesh and not discernible smell except of the sea. Plan to use within a day or two, and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator after cleaning.

Preparation : Tentacles and body sac are the edible parts. To prepare an octopus for eating, first remove beak, eyes and internal organs. With a sharp knife cut off head below the eyes. The 'beak' (which is the mouth) will be in the center of the tentacles. Push upwards with finger placed underneath, remove and discard. If octopus is big, tenderize by beating with a mallet, of hanging (tentacles down) overnight. Some fish vendors do the work for the customer by giving octopus a good going over in a mixer so it is already tenderized with purchased. Cut into pieces or leave whole if tiny. Slow cooking is needed, except in the case of baby octopus.

Octopus may be used in place of other seafood in recipes for curries, soups and salads. In curries they will receive the long slow cooking they need. For soups and salads they should be cleaned, put into cold, lightly salted water and brought slowly to the boil, simmering for 1 hour, then left to cool to room temperature in the liquid. The tentacles and body sac are then cut into bite-sized pieces and added to soup or salad. For barbecued octopus, pre-cooking is not necessary. Purchase small specimens which should be very tender, marinate in soy sauce with garlic and pepper or other flavors of choice. Cooking time should be very short, just until the flesh becomes opaque.

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