How to cook octopus

(OK, Finny, if you are reading this, it is NOT for you. We’re talking fresh-out-of-the-sea, wobbly, squiggly, suckery, floppy, tentacle-y, eight-leggedy edibleness. That said, it does not have a fishy taste at all, so I’m thinking you might actually like it—assuming you were, say, blindfolded—but I’m not holding my breath. I know what you’re muttering to yourself already.)


Yes, here he (or she—how on earth do you determine the sex of an octopus?) is, fresh out of his—or her—clean, white, paper wrapping from the fishmonger. I rarely buy anything without asking advice about how to cook it. Even if I know, it’s always fun to hear another person’s take. With Octopussy, the advice was as follows:

Place 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 stick of celery and one dried peperoncino in a large pot of water, along with a spoon of sea salt tossed in for good measure. When the water has just started appena appena to boil with the first tiny bubbles rising from the bottom of the pan, take your cleaned polipo and dip him/her three times into the hot water, while muttering, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” No wait, that’s the wrong ritual. Just dip three times, muttering nothing, then let the squiggly creature fall unceremoniously into the boiling water for 40 minutes of cooking.



(Do you see that head sac? It’s been turned inside out with cleaning. To do the ritual dipping, you just place the head of the octopus on the end of your wooden spoon and let it dangle—1, 2, 3 times—into the water. You can see in the second of these last two pictures how, just after the three dips, the octopus has begun to change color and become firm. The tentacles, at first so slimy and formless, spiral into lovely concentric curls.)

Don’t let the water boil hard, but rather encourage it to stay at a persistent simmer for 40 minutes. At the end of that time, turn off the burner, cover the pot and let the octopus sit in his water until he/she, the water and the pot have cooled considerably. The fishmonger explained to me that in the best of all scenarios, I would do as the restaurants do, cook the little sea monster at night, and leave him in the water ’til morning—a method which supposedly renders the tenderest bites possible. I didn’t have that much time. I cooked mine after lunch and we had it for dinner, and I have to say, already, it was super—to the eighth power—yummy.


I served mine with lentils, but classic preparations include a tepid salad of octopus and boiled potatoes (tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and perhaps finely chopped parsley if you like)—my favorite in assoluto, or served over a purée of chick peas. If you are interested in either of these recipes, I will be happy to find them for you! But, believe me, if you take the cooked octopus, slice it, and dress it simply with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt, it will not disappoint. It’s tender, almost sweet—utterly delectable. Promise.

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19 Responses to How to cook octopus

  1. PEIROUX says:

    beurkkkkkk……sorry i can’t …..

  2. PEIROUX says:

    carrot is OK…..

  3. debbibaron says:

    🙂 holy moley (I was going to say holy mackerel but that wouldn’t work here)! I think the ritual is the best part…no not true, octopus is good, especially when someone else does it for you.

  4. I’ll do it for you! But you’ll have to fly to Italy…can you squeeze that in?

  5. dayphoto says:

    This was a very entertaining post! Although, I don’t know if I could cook it or eat it…having never been exposed to the animal in any form here in the west…I suppose Rocky Mountain Oysters would have the same effect on others in blog land.

    Anyway…your photos are very good and the description of the cooking and then eating would lend me to MAYBE try a taste or four.

    Our oldest daughter is now dating a cute kid (they are all kids from my advanced age) who is third generation Italian. She said he cooked her the most amazing spaghetti dinner last night … lush and rich and well, delicious. She also told me to never TRY to cook spaghetti for him after she ate what he fixed 🙂 🙂 🙂


    • This has me laughing…when my husband first cooked for me (we weren’t married yet), I realized it was going to be really hard to cook for him. He made the most amazing food in the most difficult situations. I lived in Amsterdam and had only two portable electric burners in my apartment. He flew from Milan with a toaster oven on the plane just so he could make me a proper eggplant parmesan! So sweet. And such a talented cook. But it was very intimidating. Very.

  6. Janette says:

    Wow, that really does look good. And the whole octopus! What a treat.

    • You can’t really eat the whole octopus…it has a beak (!) which has to be removed and the stuff inside the head is ooky…but it’s easy to clean and there’s not a lot of waste, so there you have it. You coming back to Italy any time soon? I remember your gorgeous photos from the last trip…would you guest blog sometime about your memories of that trip?

      • Janette Gross says:

        Sure! I also just got back from Vietnam and Cambodia! Which was another fabulous textile adventure.

      • Do you have a blog of your own or is Kenny going to post your images again? I’d love to see them. In my next life I want to design textiles. Sigh.

      • Janette Gross says:

        I am still working on the best way to share this experience. No architecturally significant buildings this time, so Kenny won’t be posting. Haven’t yet jumped into the blog world!

  7. Such wonderful photos with all of it’s fabulous, tentacly arms swirling about! Something I’ll definitely have to try one day – perhaps next time I find myself in Italy or Greece?! 🙂

    • Yes, you must try it! And it’s a lot more palatable the first time if you get it nicely prepared by someone else. A little less daunting. In fact, when I tasted it the first time I was shocked at how mild and delicious it was. Just not what you expect exactly…

  8. teresa elliott says:

    That was my favorite “protein” in all of Italia! Have you grilled it? Tell me it’s not alive when you give it that hot bath…

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