There are few dishes as visually stunning as baby octopus when cooked. Purple-tinged tentacles curl and twist into an eye-catching swirl that looks more like a sculpture in an art museum than a meal on a plate. Grilled baby octopus not only adds char-grilled flavor to the cephalopod, but it also emblazons the flesh with eye-catching grill kisses that add dark, caramelized contrast to the white and lavender meat.
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.
This grilled baby octopus requires three steps that take some time, but they’re easy to execute and result in a succulent, savory, stunning appetizer, or protein for the main course. An easy three-step cooking method (blanching, marinating, then grilling) creates a tender, crispy marinated octopus drenched in a garlicky, herby marinade and dressing.
How Long to Cook Baby Octopus Before Grilling
We recommend cooking the baby octopus before grilling it to tenderize the meat. Our recipe for grilled baby octopus includes blanching the meat for 1 minute.
Blanching entails boiling a pot of water, then turning off the heat and plunging the raw baby octopi in boiling water for 1 minute before removing and cooling the meat. If you skip the step of cooling the meat immediately once removing it from the pot of hot water, the meat will continue cooking and could become overcooked. Remember, you will cook the octopi again when it touches the hot grill. While undercooked or uncooked octopus has a chewy texture, overcooked octopus becomes downright leathery.
Other recipes for grilled octopus can include recommendations to boil the meat for 40 to 60 minutes. The variance in cooking time can depend on the size of the octopus. Certainly, you’ll need a longer time to boil—not blanch—thick, long tentacles.
What Does Baby Octopus Taste Like?
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.
How to Prepare Baby Octopus for Cooking
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 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.
If the octopi still have their heads, you can either cut the heads off and discard them or keep the heads on. If you choose to keep the heads on, however, make sure they’re cleaned out. If they’re 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.
Tips for Grilling Baby Octopus
Grill baby octopus the same way you’d grill any other protein. Follow these steps for perfectly grilled baby octopus:
Blanch the baby octopus in boiling water for 1 minute, then remove from hot water and rinse with very cold water.
Marinate the baby octopus (and leaner meats) to add moisture, or add a dry rub or generous seasoning to cuts of meat with more visible fat. Refrigerate the marinated baby octopus for 2–4 hours.
Make sure the octopus (or any protein you plan to grill) is at room temperature before placing it on the hot grill. Why? Temperate protein results in juicier, more evenly cooked meat.
Heat up the grill, skewer the baby octopus, and grill over high heat for about 6 minutes total. Turn the skewered octopi over several times while grilling.
Grilled Baby Octopus Recipe
Servings: 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer Time:1 hour, 26 minutes
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. Remove the baby octopus from the refrigerator and place it on the counter to come to room temperature.
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.