Octopus is a unique piece of seafood, and a number of consumers have misconceptions about how to cook it properly. Many people believe that the cephalopod only yields chewy, tasteless meat when cooked, but this is in fact far from the truth, as regional cuisines from France to Vietnam will attest. It is actually quite easy to cook octopus, but it needs to be done slowly.
Octopus usually tastes best when it is cooked slowly, tenderizing the flesh. The flesh will always be chewy, much like other meats, but it will not be rubbery and unpalatable if it is cooked properly. Cooks can also use smaller baby octopi, which will be more tender and yielding. There are a number of ways to cook octopus once a cook gets the hang of it, and he certainly does not need to beat it or peel it, unless he feels a driving urge to do so.
To begin with, cooks should choose octopus well. Most producers freeze the meat after catching it, which does not usually damage the flesh as long as it is well handled. In fact, frozen octopus tends to be more tender. Shoppers should plan on around 2 pounds (about 1 kg) for every three people, keeping in mind that the meat will shrink as it is cooked. Consumers should purchase cleaned octopus, if they can; in fact, shoppers may have trouble finding uncleaned octopus. If only uncleaned meat is available, chefs can clean it by turning it inside out, scraping the innards and the hard beak out, and washing it well. Some people also have a skin reaction to raw octopus, so wearing gloves is recommended.
There are many uses for the surprisingly tender, flavorful cephalopod. One of the best ways to cook it is in stews, curries, and other dishes that require a long simmering. Octopus can be cooked in water, stock, or wine, along with an assortment of other spices. The meat is done when a thin, sharp knife inserted into the thickest part yields easily. Small baby octopi will cook very quickly, while larger specimens may take several hours.
Once simmered, chefs can further cook octopus by grilling, baking, broiling, or sauteing it to produce different flavors and textures. Octopus can also replace other seafood in dishes like bouillabaisse and curries. Baby octopi can be cooked without a pre-simmering, and they taste especially excellent when marinated and grilled. Cooks looking for inspiration may want to look to Greek cuisine, which offers a number of recipes, ranging from octopus stewed in red wine to octopus fried with oil, salt, and pepper and served cold with lemon.