Monday | April 27, 2015
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Cooking octopus

Octopus, also known as “tako,” is a great pupu or main dish. Recently, I taught a cooking class with a medium-sized tako that one of my students caught that morning in front of the Hilo breakwater.

Bobby removed the beak and eyes, the internal organs and ink sac, then proceeded to massage, or “lomi-lomi,” it with salt to soften it. Some believe that freezing the tako will soften the meat. However, freezing will worsen the fibrousness and reduce the fresh taste. Even after two days in the refrigerator, octopus loses its sweetness and then when cooked, becomes fibrous.

When I was at a cooking school in Florence, Italy, we cooked an octopus dish. The instructor said you either barely cook it or stew it for hours. There is no in-between or the octopus meat will end up being rubbery. When we were walking along the shoreline in Greece, we watched a recently retrieved octopus being pounded on the rocks. Pounding or massaging is important for tenderness.

I have heard of putting a wine cork in the pot while cooking, and that perhaps the cork has a natural enzyme that helps to tenderize the meat, but it may be an old wives’ tale. Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastinich all place wine corks (not the new plastic ones) into their pot when braising octopus, but when questioned why they do it, none of them can say why!

Another theory is to dip the octopus in simmering water three times before placing it in the pot. That also has no explanation why it would tenderize the meat.

The fact is that octopus muscles, according to Harold McGee, are “arrayed in multiple layers, and greatly reinforced with strengthening and toughening connective-tissue collagen, some three to five times more than fish muscle has. Unlike the fragile collagen of fish, squid and octopus collagen is extensively cross-linked and behaves more like the collagen of meat animals.

Like the abalone and clam, squid and octopus must be cooked either barely and briefly to prevent muscle fibers from toughening, or for a long time to break down the collagen. Cooked quickly to 130-135 degrees, their flesh is moist and almost crisp. At 140 degrees, it curls and shrinks as the collagen layers contract and squeeze moisture from the muscle fibers. Continued gentle simmering for an hour or more will dissolve the tough, contracted collagen into gelatin and give the flesh a silken succulence. Pounding can also help disorganize and thus tenderize mantles and arms.

Bobby massaging, my Italian cooking instructor informing us to either barely cook or stew for hours, and the Greek fisherman pounding the octopus on the rocks, are all correct according to the scientific explanation by Harold McGee.

This recipe from Chef Salvadore Calisi or Dio Deka in Los Gatos, California stews the octopus in cork.

Grilled Octopus

Boil gently for three hours in a large pot:

6 whole octopus, about 12 pounds

2 gallons water

2 cups red wine

1 head of smashed garlic

1 cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped onions

4 bay leaves

12 black peppercorns

4 pieces of wine bottle cork

Remove from water. Grill octopus until it has a nice char. Remove from grill and toss with:

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Fresh oregano, to taste

Salt and Pepper, to taste

I have seen cut-up pieces of tako in the frozen seafood section at KTA and once thawed, can be used to make a great pupu.

Tako with Limu Kohu

Serves 4-6

Combine, mix well and let stand for one hour before serving:

1 pound cooked octopus, cut up pieces

1/4 cup limu kohu seaweed

1/4 cup green onions, chopped fine

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce ( I like the vegetarian oyster sauce made of mushrooms, available at Kilauea Market. Many people are allergic to oyster sauce)

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 chili pepper (Hawaiian preferred)


We have been watching the empty space in Kurtistown for a few months. What’s intriguing is with the 7-Eleven is next door, their approval on who would be their neighbor was necessary.

So it was great to see the grand opening sign when Kurtistown Café opened a few weeks ago.

David Chen, whose family also owns Chen’s Chinese Kitchen at the Prince Kuhio Plaza, has a hot line with more than 15 items to choose from. Beef burgers are homemade and they also have mahimahi and chicken burgers. Local favorites such as loco moco, chicken katsu, pork cutlet, barbecue chicken, beef or short ribs are also available. Their teriyaki and salt and pepper steak is a New York cut of beef. Catering is also available for half and full pans. Currently opened from 9 a.m.-9 p.m., David said very shortly, Kurtistown Café will be opening at 6 a.m. for breakfast. Call 966-7588 for special orders.

Please feel free to e-mail me at if you have a question. Bon appetit until next week.


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