Oh, you know I love me some octopus. This cold appetizer, or light main dish when served with some salad on the side, (or meze served with some chilled white wine, or tsipouro on the side— cheers!) made with shortly braised octopus tentacle slices and a nutty and spicy sesame dip served on the side (or drizzled on top because I don’t care for moderation when it comes to sauces) is perfect for summer!
Octopus is a common ingredient in Greek cuisine and around this time of year you can find plenty of freshly-caught octopi at all the fish markets. Famously, in Greece, you will usually find octopus tentacles grilled over charcoal, or stewed for hours with baby onions in a lovely dish called xtapodi stifado. While incredibly delicious, these dishes usually do take some time to prepare…and, honestly, while they’re some of my favorite meals, sometimes you don’t want to be in the kitchen for hours on hot summer days. Luckily, there are two different ways of cooking an octopus: the very long way and the very short way.
While octopus in Greek ‘stifado‘ is cooked for hours to transform the rubbery texture of the collagen-rich meat into a soft gelatin-y texture, I’ve found that in certain Asian dishes octopus is prepared by only shortly boiling, or steaming it (or even leaving it raw in some rare cases) to ensure the meat remains pleasantly chewy, briny and fresh, but not tough.
For my dish today, I was greatly inspired by such preparations and this one recipe by Maangchi for Korean Muneo-sukhoe (문어숙회) here in particular. I’ve followed the suggested cooking times from Maangchi’s octopus dish and found the octopus turns out just cooked through and deliciously tender.
So, how short is a ‘short’ cooking time for octopus?
Maangchi suggests to braise the creatures, which are cleaned but kept whole, about 7 to 8 minutes for a 1 kg octopus, 8 to 10 minutes for a 1 to 2 kg octopus and up to 15 minutes for a large 2 to 3 kg octopus. There is a thin line between cooked ‘just right’ and over-, or undercooked, so it is important to keep an eye on your octopus whilst braising it. If prepared correctly, the meat should turn white and opaque on the inside, just slightly firm to the touch and a fork, or chopstick should be able to quite easily pierce it. If the meat is not cooked long enough, it will still be slightly translucent and squishy, while it’ll be incredibly tough and difficult to chew when it’s overcooked.
As for the dipping sauce, or dressing: because the preparation and overall dish itself are kept rather simple, I chose to pair the octopus with a slightly spicy dipping sauce made with lots of gochugaru (Korean chili flakes), nutty sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds for some texture. While the sauce is light yet full of flavour, I think that it fits perfectly with the shortly braised octopus and still really allows the briny octopus flavor to shine through.
Tip: For this recipe, you only use 1 tablespoon of the octopus cooking liquid to make the dressing, but you can reserve the rest of the broth to use in other recipes such as soups and seafood stews.
Octopus Slices with Chili Sesame Dressing
- For the octopus:
- 1kg octopus, guts removed
- 40g ginger chunk, very thinly cut
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a knife
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 2l water
- For the dipping sauce/dressing:
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 2 - 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice (or white vinegar)
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- ½ teaspoon Korean chili flakes (gochugaru), or add to taste
- ¼ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
MethodThis recipe serves 4 as a light main or big appetizer (2 tentacles per person), or 8 as a small snack (1 tentacle per person) -
- Prepare braising stock: Bring a large pot of water with about 2 liters of water, the thinly sliced ginger, roughly chopped onion and crushed garlic cloves to a boil. Let it simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or longer if you've got the time, to let the flavors of the aromatics infuse. Alternatively, if you want to skip making a flavorful broth, just bring a pot of 2 liters of water to a boil.
- Meanwhile, clean octopus: Place the octopus in a large bowl, or sink and cover with a tablespoon of coarse salt. Rub vigorously for a few minutes, until you see a foam and the octopus starts getting paler in color. Rinse the octopus in cold water. If it’s still slippery and dirty, repeat the scrubbing, salting and rinsing process.
- Braise octopus: Turn the heat under the pot with water to medium-low to create a gentle simmer and add the octopus, tentacles first. After a few minutes, turn it over. Turn every few minutes to cook it evenly. A 1kg octopus needs around 8 minutes in total (other cooking times can be found in post above), but check the octopus every few minutes by gently piercing a tentacles to see if it’s cooked through.
- Cool octopus: When the octopus is cooked, remove it from the pot (reserve the liquids!*) and quickly rinse it under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Let octopus cool down completely.
- Meanwhile, prepare the dipping sauce/ dressing: In a small frying pan, or saucepan, toast 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds until lightly toasted and browned. Remove the pan from the heat and place toasted seeds in a small bowl. Add 3 tablespoons sesame oil, ½ tablespoon lemon juice, one small crushed garlic clove, ½ teaspoon chili flakes and ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir to combine and set aside to let the flavors blend well. After braising the octopus you will have to add some of the liquid to the dressing to finish it.
- Take 1- 2 tablespoons of the octopus' cooking liquid and stir into the dressing/dipping sauce.
- Slice octopus: When the octopus has cooled down, first cut off the head and keep it aside. Cut the octopus in half, then separate the tentacles from each other. Thinly slice the octopus tentacles, cutting at a slight angle, keeping the curly end bits of the tentacle whole, or roughly chopped (see photo in post). When using the head, thinly slice the head in strips and place at the center of the plate.
- Serve with dipping sauce on the side, or drizzled over the pieces. Optionally garnish with some slices of lemon. Use 1 or 2 tentacles per person as a meze, side dish, or appetizer.