Since learning about the importance of scaring an octopus, I don’t remember using other cooking methods than in the recipe for this great tasting tapa. Then I saw Tender, Silky Sous Vide Octopus by ChefSteps. Not that my octopuses were not tender or silky without using sous vide, but I got intrigued to find how they vacuum pack a large octopus with long tentacles. The answer was easy — blanch it, or “scare” it once. Blanched tentacles contract and the beast becomes compact.
In Central Texas (including ATX), you can buy an octopus either in Central Market or Asian supermarkets. Central Market labels its octopus as Mediterranian, while Asian species come from Thailand and Philippines. After cooking both types, I noticed Asian octopus is somewhat bland and thus benefit from salt and basic spices added to the cooking water. Mediterranian one doesn’t need any. In a search to confirm my experience, I came across Mark Bittman’s Octopus Demystified. He says: “After weeks of cooking octopus from all over the world, I detected little or no difference in quality between those from Europe and those from Asia.” Does it have anything to do with quality or not, but to my taste, a Mediterranian octopus is much more flavorful then Asian. Try both and see for yourself.
Where the octopus comes from is important, because the recipe below is for a Mediterranian octopus.
Like many other people, I feel reluctant trying new cooking methods when the old ones work just fine. After years of playing with sous vide, I realized it doesn’t make my life in the kitchen much easier. I simply switch one kind of the cooking/prepping steps to another, and I can’t be spontaneous. For me, cooking with sous vide should be worse of all the planning and work I need to do. Let’s compare the steps.
The first step for both methods is blanching. Traditional multiple blanching (aka “scaring”) takes longer, but then you just let it simmer slowly. For sous vide, you only blanch the octopus once until its tentacles curl. But then you also need an ice bath, and vacuum packing, and water bath, and cooking for 5 hours.
About blanching. I do not do it for 10 minutes like ChefSteps recommends. The timing depends on the water to octopus weight ratio and on the initial temperature of the octopus. If you fill a 5.5-gallon pot with 3 gallons of water for 1.5-2-pound room temperature octopus and bring it to boiling, the time for blanching is 2-3 minutes max.
It takes time to cook an octopus sous vide. But it’s worth the wait! You end up with perfectly cooked in its juices octopus, naturally and fully flavored, its skin intact. If you refrigerate it after cooking still vacuum packed, its juices gelatinize. It tastes amazing! It is beautiful served!