The Secret to Perfect Octopus

Pulpo a La Brasa – Grilled Spanish octopus at Tertulia Restaurant in New York City

August 20, 2016  •  By Seamus Mullen

If there is one dish that perplexes home cooks, it’s how to properly cook octopus. It seems overwhelmingly complicated and the thought of cooking it at home is daunting. Well… it’s not really that tough if you do it properly (pun intended, sorry I couldn’t resist!)

The octopus is a highly intelligent member of the cephalopod family, invertebrate mollusks with tentacles attached to the head. Eight to be specific. In addition to being smart, they taste really, really good. The problem is, they are made of dense muscle and if not cooked properly, the meat can be super tough and rubbery.

To avoid rubbery cephalopod, first you have to tenderize the octopus. In Japan, they do this by massaging and rubbing it around in a textured bowl to break down the proteins. This works well, but it’s a lot of effort. I prefer to freeze it or, even better, buy frozen octopus. The expansion of water within the octopus during the freezing process breaks down the protein and helps to tenderize it. But the real secret is in how it’s cooked. I learned this technique in Spain and it really, really works!



  1. Bring a large pot of aromatic liquid to a boil (I use water, white wine, herbs, garlic, celery, carrots and onions.)
  2. At a rolling boil, hold the octopus with tongs and completely submerge it for 10 seconds. Repeat this three times, the shock of the boiling liquid tenderizes the octopus.
  3. After the third dunk, leave it in the pot, cover it and turn off the heat.
  4. Leave the octopus in the liquid for 45 minutes for a 3 pound critter, and 1 hour for a 5 pounder.
  5. Finally, remove it from the liquid and let it cool.

Now you can grill it, sauté it, dice it up for a cold salad, or just eat it dressed with a little olive oil! See, that wasn’t so bad!