Bring well-salted water to a boil with aromatics and enough liquid to cover. For a Mediterranean preparation, flavor the water with onion, carrot, bay leaf, and thyme. For Asian preparations, flavor the water with slices of ginger, bruised lemongrass stalks, and shallots. To be honest, I’m often in a hurry and just use well-salted water (think sea water) for any style preparation.
You want to simmer the octopus until the tentacles can be easily pierced with the tip of your knife and feel tender when squeezed with your tongs. This usually takes forty minutes to an hour. The timing seems to be similar for baby octopus as well as the big ones. After this first process, chill the octopus. If it is very tender, I pour ice on top as it sits draining in the colander to immediately stop the cooking process. Once chilled, it will easily keep for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator.
When ready for the final preparation, slice the tentacles in to thin discs for a salad, cut into bite-sized pieces for a sauté, or separate the octopus into individual tentacles for easy handling on the grill. Octopus is used in recipes across a wide variety of cuisines. Once pre-cooked:
- Cut tentacles into bite sized chunks, season with lemon, smoked paprika, and coarse salt and then sauté in olive oil along with wedges of par-boiled new potatoes. For a familiar Spanish tapas, serve a piece of octopus and potato on a small skewer.
- Marinate the octopus in crushed ginger, soy, lime, and peanut or sesame oil. Finish it on the grill. Koreans serve octopus hot or cold with a dip containing garlic, ginger, sesame, soybean paste, and sugar, balanced with chili and white vinegar or lime juice.
- Flash cook whole tentacles on the grill until lightly charred but not dry; serve with spicy greens like arugula or watercress dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.
- Thinly slice octopus and toss with cherry tomatoes, cracked olives, sweet onion, and parsley for a cold salad.