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
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.