There are few animals as visually stunning as a baby octopus when cooked. Purple-tinged arms curl and twist into an eye-catching swirl that looks more like a sculpture in an art museum than a meal on a plate. When it comes to food, however, beauty only goes so far. Eventually you’ve got to stick a fork in it and satisfy your hunger.
Either as an appetizer or main course, this recipe for grilled baby octopus is a stunning meal that will please both the eyes and the palate. An easy three-step cooking method (blanching, marinating, then grilling) creates tender, crispy octopus drenched in a garlicky, herby marinade and dressing.
Plain octopus has a delicate flavor that’s slightly sweet and similar to that of a scallop. In fact, the flavor of octopus can be so mild that it’s hard to dislike but octopus can present a textural challenge. If your last experience with octopus was a little like chewing on a tire, this recipe will win you back. Dropping the octopus in boiling hot water for just a minute cooks it halfway and helps tenderize the meat. A long soak in a marinade continues the tenderizing process and also gives the meat most of its flavor. Finally, a quick sear on the grill intensifies the flavor and gives the edges a charred, crispy texture.
Baby octopus is usually sold frozen at seafood stores although occasionally you’ll find it fresh. If the heads are still on, they need to be cleaned out (see below) or you can just cut the heads off and get rid of them. This is a personal choice: Once cleaned, the head is edible although not always as flavorful as the rest of the body.
Baby octopus…so simple to make, so beautiful to look at and so delicious to eat!
Servings: 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer
- 2 pounds baby octopus
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
If the octopus is frozen, defrost completely.
If the octopi still have their heads, you can either cut the heads off and discard them or keep the head on. If you choose to keep the head on, however, make sure it’s cleaned out. If it’s not, then you can approach the task two ways:
- Make a shallow cut along the head, being careful not to cut too deep and puncture the innards. Carefully but firmly pull out everything inside.
- Cut the head off, turn it inside out and use a knife to scrape away the innards.
In both cases, if a small black, triangular beak does not come out along with everything else, then push your finger up through the middle of the body and the beak should pop out. Rinse the octopi and set aside.
To make the marinade, whisk together the 1/2 cup of olive oil, plus lemon juice, garlic, thyme, salt and black pepper. Set aside.
In a large pot over high heat, bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Turn the heat off and dump the octopuses into the pot.
Let sit for 1 minute then drain immediately. Rinse with cold water.
Combine the octopus and the marinade, either in a large bowl or sealed plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but ideally 4.
Soak 4 wooden skewers in water. Heat the grill to high.
While the grill is heating, make the dressing by whisking together the rosemary, lemon juice, lemon zest and remaining olive oil.
Skewer each octopus, putting 3 to 5 on each skewer (if you have heads that are separate from the body, skewer them too). Grill over high heat, letting the flames char the outside, but turn the skewers a few times so the octopus doesn’t burn. A total of around 6 minutes on the grill is usually about right.
Remove from the grill; drizzle with rosemary dressing. The octopus can remain whole, or you can slice it thinly. Grilled baby octopus can be served hot off the grill, or you can chill it and serve cold with extra lemon wedges on the side.
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