How to Cook Octopus

Octopus on a plate

The Spruce / Chosen Posture

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 2 hrs
Total: 2 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
372 Calories
5g Fat
10g Carbs
68g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 372
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5g 6%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Cholesterol 218mg 73%
Sodium 1074mg 47%
Total Carbohydrate 10g 4%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 68g
Vitamin C 18mg 91%
Calcium 264mg 20%
Iron 22mg 120%
Potassium 1428mg 30%
*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 is a beast to prepare not because it's hard, but because there is a lot of conflicting information as to what's best to do. Always a delightful dish when properly cooked, and a disaster when served chewy and rubbery, octopus needs some time investment to really shine. Tender and buttery soft, nicely cooked octopus is a delicious food that appears in many Mediterranean dishes. When done appropriately with very few simple steps and some patience, octopus is wonderfully incorporated into salads and pastas and makes a flavorful appetizer when grilled with lemon.

Don't be intimidated by cooking octopus at home as it's very simple and doesn't require any special tricks or equipment. It just needs a good boil, after which it can be pickled, stewed, roasted, deep-fried, or grilled. If you plan to slice it before using another cooking method to finish it up, allow the boiled octopus to come to room temperature or chill entirely as it will be easier to cut.

Use fresh or frozen octopus. 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. However, if buying fresh octopus, it should not have any fishy smell at all—a sign that it has been sitting for a while.

Serve octopus with fresh lemon and pair it with dishes featuring olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs, like a mascarpone and lemon pasta or some fried garlic potatoes.

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Click Play to See This Basic Octopus Recipe Come Together

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 pounds octopus, fresh or frozen

  • 3 to 5 quarts cold water

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. If buying fresh octopus, ask the fishmonger to clean it for you. However, if the octopus is not pre-cleaned, 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 and the organs will come with it. All frozen octopus is pre-cleaned.

    Clean the octopus
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  3. Set the octopus in a large pot with enough water to cover it, 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 a 2- to 3-pound octopus, it will usually be between 1 to 2 hours. Test for doneness by inserting a knife where the head meets the legs. The knife should slide in easily. If not, allow more time to cook. Once the octopus is tender, use it in your favorite recipe. Grill it or slice it in a salad. Enjoy.

    Cook the octopus
    The Spruce

Folk Tricks for Tenderizing Octopus

Many folk tricks are used in the kitchen to help tenderize tough octopus meat. Even though nothing beats a good slow simmer, here are a few of the most famous tricks:

  • Boil the octopus with a wine cork in the simmering liquid to keep it tender. There is no scientific evidence as to why this helps, but Italian tradition swears by it.
  • Blanch the octopus for 30 seconds in boiling water and then bake 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. This trick is recommended by Harold McGee, a famous food science guru, for tender and flavorful octopus.
  • Add a tablespoon of vinegar into the simmering liquid as the acetic acid can help break down the connective tissue in the tentacles.
  • Marinate the octopus overnight in whole milk to help tenderize the meat.
  • Place the octopus in a bag and carefully and firmly press the tentacles with a rolling pin. A few passes on each tentacle should do it as the point is to preserve the shape, not to flatten it.
  • Cook at high pressure in a pressure cooker for 15 to 20 minutes when pressed for time. Test for doneness with a knife as instructed in our method, and further cook with your preferred method.