How to Cook Octopus

Octopus on a plate

The Spruce / Chosen Posture

  • Total: 2 hrs 10 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 2 hrs
  • Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
558 Calories
7g Fat
15g Carbs
101g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 558
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 2g 8%
Cholesterol 327mg 109%
Sodium 1565mg 68%
Total Carbohydrate 15g 5%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Protein 101g
Calcium 361mg 28%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Octopus (polipo or polpo in Italian) is delightful when it is cooked properly—tender and buttery soft—and it is wonderful in summer seafood salads such as octopus and potato salad (insalata di polpo e patate) or simply grilled with lemon. But it can be devilish to cook, going from tender to rubbery and back as it sits in the pot. 

In any case, don't be intimidated by cooking octopus at home—it's much simpler than you think and doesn't require any special tricks or equipment. It's perfectly safe to eat when cooked and is relatively low in mercury. If just eaten once or twice a month, the mercury levels should be perfectly safe.

After boiling the octopus, it can be quickly or grilled. If you plan to slice it before cooking again, let the boiled octopus come to room temperature or chill. It will be easier to cut. Serve octopus with fresh lemon and pair with sauces or dishes featuring olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs.

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Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 pounds octopus (fresh or frozen)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. All frozen octopus is precleaned, and if buying fresh, you can ask the fishmonger to clean it for you. However, if the octopus is not precleaned, wash and clean it, removing the ink sac and internal organs by making a circular cut around the beak with a paring knife. Pull away the beak (the organs will come with it).

    Clean the octopus
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  3. Set the octopus in a large pot with enough water to cover, then bring the water to just a simmer.

    Boil the octopus
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  4. Simmer very gently at 190 to 200 F. Timing varies depending on the weight of the octopus and how many you are cooking. For 2 to 3 pounds of octopus (4 servings), it will usually be between 1 to 2 hours, but the true test for doneness is when a knife inserted where the head meets the legs slides in easily. 

    Cook the octopus
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  5. Once the octopus is tender, you can serve it in a salad or mixed into a pasta or risotto. You can also grill it quickly over a high flame to crisp up the exterior.

Tips

  • Italian kitchen wisdom says to boil the octopus with a wine cork in the simmering liquid to keep it tender, but there are disputes as to whether this technique works or is an old wive's tale. If you have a used wine cork sitting around, toss it in.
  • According to food science guru Harold McGee, the key to tender and flavorful octopus is instead blanching it for 30 seconds in boiling water and then baking it, covered, in an oven at 200 F for a few hours. It does make sense that, undiluted by cooking water, the slow-braised octopus would retain more of its flavor.
  • Previously frozen octopus tends to become tender more quickly than fresh. It might seem counterintuitive because freezing can have a negative effect on both texture and flavor with many types of meat and seafood, but with octopus and squid, that is not the case. Frozen is often easier to find, but you can use either fresh or frozen for this recipe.
  • When buying fresh octopus, it should not have any fishy smell at all—if it does, that means it has already started to go bad.