Finding the ‘right’ way to cook octopus is nearly impossible.
Google ‘grilled octopus recipe’ and you can choose from almost 600,000 results. After reading a few hundred of these, I am convinced that each recipe is completely different from the last.
The biggest differences are in the ways that the meat is tenderized. Tenderizing is perhaps the most important part of cooking octopus—get that part wrong, and you have a dish that is chewier than Gumby and his horse Pokey put together. Get it right, and you transform it into a soft and pleasantly chewy dish.
Traditionally, Greek fishermen beat the octopi against the rocks of the Greek coast, and then hang them out to dry on clotheslines.
Something tells me, though, that the Baltimore Health Department would have something to say about that method.
So around here, people invent their own methods of cooking octopus.
I’ve read recipes that tell you to braise, brine, boil, and freeze the octopus. I’ve also read recipes that tell you absolutely not to do any of these things.
Some sources say that each octopus is different, and therefore they each need a different amount of time to cook. Others say that there are no noticeable differences between different octopi.
You get the idea. There is a great big shredded mass of contradictory information out there, and I think the answer is, the best way to cook octopus is the way your mother cooked octopus.
Or go to a restaurant, where presumably they know what they are doing.
Easier said than done. Even restaurants struggle with octopus—I’ve eaten a lot of octopus that was tough and way too chewy. A lot of people don’t like octopus because badly cooked octopus is the only kind of octopus they’ve had.
To find someone who know’s what they’re doing, I head down to the Greek Folk Festival. This year, the festival is held Thursday, June 7, through Sunday, June 10, in front of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church on Ponca Street. It’s a great opportunity to get a huge plate of grilled octopus that’s cooked to perfection. When octopus is cooked just right, the texture is almost soft, and just a tiny bit chewy. It is a little charred on the outside, but juicy and succulent on the inside. The flavor is mild and a little fishy, and it doesn’t need a lot to spice it up. Some lemon juice, olive oil, and oregano do the job perfectly.
That’s the way they cook octopus at the Greek Folk Festival.
So, unless you want to go through hundreds of thousands of octopus recipes, I suggest you just head down to the festival for your fill of octopus, and maybe try to talk them out of the recipe.
by EVE. G. GILLISON
SPECIAL TO THE BALTIMORE GUIDE