Octopus Salad (Ensalada de Pulpo)

Have you ever tried octopus? It tastes a lot like calamari, just meatier, which makes sense given that octopus is sort of like a giant squid. One of my favorite dishes in the whole world is Mexican octopus salad, or “ensalada de pulpo”, with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, and chiles. It’s fabulous as a side or topped over tacos or tostadas. It’s been on my list of things to make for years, but octopus isn’t exactly easy to find at the local markets around here. Lo and behold last week they appeared at the Whole Foods down the street, woo hoo! Thank you Whole Foods, for encouraging the adventurous among us.

Ensalada de pulpo is often made like a ceviche, the octopus “cooked” in an acidic marinade, without heat. For this recipe we are taking a different approach using a technique taught to me by Hank Shaw, who cooks and eats a lot of octopi. We are cooking the octopus, blanching it first, then slow cooking it in its own juices over a bed of aromatic herbs. The slow cooking without added liquid concentrates the octopus’ flavor, while the octopus absorbs rich flavor from the herbs. The slow cooking also helps cook the octopus so that the meat is tender (just a little chewy, like lobster), not tough. Then we chop the meat, and toss it with the other salad ingredients and a lime juice, cider vinegar, olive oil marinade, and chill it for several hours.

Octopus Salad (Ensalada de Pulpo) Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Yield: Serves 4.

If you are using frozen octopus, unwrap it and place it in a large rectangular dish filled with cold water to defrost.

Ingredients

  • One 2 pound octopus, cleaned*
  • Salt
  • Several large sprigs of fresh oregano
  • Several large sprigs of fresh parsley
  • Several sprigs of fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup seeded, chopped cucumber (peeled if the peels are thick and bitter, otherwise leave them on)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 green onions, sliced, including some of the darker green ends
  • 1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced (test for heat, if really hot, only use a small amount)
  • 1/2 cup (loose) chopped fresh cilantro, including tender stems
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes

*If you buy a frozen octopus, it has already been cleaned. If you have an octopus fresh from the sea, there are a few steps you need to take to get it ready to cook, i.e. removing the beak, the eyes, and the ink sac. See this video or this blog post for good explanations on how to do that.

Method

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1 Heat a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Place the raw octopus in the boiling water, return the water to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Then remove the octopus from the pot and place to cool on a sheet pan. Discard the cooking water.

2 Cut the octopus into large pieces, discard anything that doesn't look like meat (innards, beak, etc.) that somehow slipped by the cleaning process. Place the pieces of the octopus on the bed of herbs.

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3 Prepare a bed of herbs (parsley, cilantro, fresh oregano) in a small Dutch oven or covered casserole. Place the octopus pieces on top of the herbs, cover and bake in a 250°F (120°C) oven for 1 3/4 hours, until tender (adjust cooking time for smaller or larger octopi).

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4 Remove the pieces of octopus to a sheet pan to cool. When cool to touch, pull off any gelatinous bits that surround the pieces of the octopus that you don't want to eat. (It's a texture thing. If you don't mind the texture, don't worry about it, it tastes good.) You may also notice small round pieces of meat that sort of look like eyeballs. They're not eyeballs, but pieces from the octopus' suction cups on the tentacles. They taste good too, just like the rest of the octopus. Cut the meat into 1/2-inch pieces. You should have close to 2 cups of chopped octopus meat.

5 Place the chopped octopus into a large, non-reactive bowl.  Add the cucumbers, red onion, scallions, cilantro, dried oregano, and jalapeño. Add the lime juice, cider vinegar, olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and stir to combine.  Cover and chill for 2 hours or overnight.  Once ready to serve, stir in the chopped tomatoes.

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Links:

Greek Octopus, from My Little Expat Kitchen

How to Clean Octopus, YouTube video

Octopus Demystified, from The Splendid Table

Greek Style Grilled Octopus, from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Japanese Octopus Salad, from Just One Cookbook

Ensalada de Pulpo, Octopus Salad on Simply Recipes

38 Comments

  1. Diane Z.

    Do you think this method would would work in a slow cooker on high? It sounds yummy!

  2. Jeno

    Octopus is definitely the most underrated of sea creatures. In Spain, we have it over slices of boiled potatoes then garnish with olive oil, a sprinkle of pimenton and flaky sea salt. The pictures are gorgeous!

    • James Langley

      Spent two weeks in Cadiz and Jerez last year, and could not bring myself to try pulpo. Wish I had skipped the Bacalao. Everything else was delicious. Ate at La Carbona in Jerez, which was wonderful. Been thinking about trying octopus here. We have one of the best Sushi bars in the country.

  3. grace

    I like octopus and this look yummy. It’s just the cleaning it that’s creepy to me so I think I would buy it already cleaned and ready to go!!! I’d hope I could buy it like that!

  4. Sandy S

    Oh my. I hope this post won’t get me banished from this website as I enjoy it and those who use it very much. But, here it goes. Octopus are pretty smart. Even the smaller ones. They can figure out how to open containers like jars and the larger ones can identify skin divers that they see from time to time. There is a movement in the Pac. NW to restrict killing of the larger ones in particular, as so many are being harvested for foreign trade. Just some info that can be looked into on the Internet for those who are interested.

    • KS

      I stopped eating octopus for that reason. They’re delicious but I feel sorry for them.

  5. Ariel

    I love octopus! This recipe looks delicious!

  6. Sues

    I love octopus, but have never thought to make it at home. This salad looks beautiful!

  7. Chris S.

    OK, Elise — if anyone could get me to try this, it’s you!! :)

  8. Harrison

    Okra. Okra is slimier than Octopus.

  9. IMHO

    [[There are a few steps you need to take to get it ready to cook, i.e. removing the beak, the eyes, and the ink sac.]]

    Even though this isn’t much different from prepping a chicken for cooking (I’ve pulled the innards out of many a bird), I’m going to take a pass on this recipe.

    • Elise

      Unless you are fishing for octopus in the ocean, any octopus you buy will likely already be cleaned and ready to cook.

    • chieko

      Cleaning a fresh octopus is so much easier than cleaning a fresh caught fish. A couple of things, an octopus has no blood, no gills, no bones. So easy and not much waste.

  10. jenni

    this looks so good! does frozen octopus have a different texture from fresh octopus? i’ve never cooked with octopus before so the thought of cleaning a fresh one is a little scary.

  11. Carly

    This recipe looks very similar to the Salada de Polvo I eat in Portugal every summer, and it’s TO DIE FOR.

  12. Monica

    Simply Delicioso! My grandma in puerto rico makes this dish when ever i visit nly thing she does’nt add is the jalapeño.

  13. gina @ skinnytaste

    Looks so good, I always loved pulpo if it’s prepared right, I’ve never actually made it myself but I might try this one!

  14. Stephanie

    I looooove octopus!!! My favorite is the octopodi dish as my local Greek restaurant in Charlotte, The Greek Isles. I never thought to make it myself. I might have to get over my fears and give it a try!!

  15. Fran

    Great recype, In Spain we call it Pipirrana, a very similar dish!

  16. Lisa Koh

    The Japanese have a salad that uses octopus and cucumber in a similar way but with the octopus and cucumber sliced like coins and garnished with myoga (a kind of ginger flower bulb). The combination of cucumber and octopus is supposed to cool the body down in the summer heat.

  17. Chef Brian

    Fantastic Recipe. When I was cooking in Italy I was introduced to octopus and have loved it ever since. The key is to either cook for a short period of time or a very long time. Anything in between will be like rubber. Keep the great recipes coming.
    Thanks

  18. Christine

    Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the best deals on octopus can be had at Asian markets. I purchased two big frozen octopuses (octopi is incorrect) at a Philipino grocery chain called Seafood City for $2.99 a pound.

  19. Magda

    Hi Elise. I’m so happy you found my instructions about preparing octopus useful. :) In Greece we cook and eat it all the time, especially during the summer when it’s at its best fresh.
    Your dish looks amazing, what a vibrant salad this is. I have to give it a try the next time I get my hands on some fresh octopus.
    Thank you!

  20. Connie

    Like Sandy S. I no longer eat octopus because of their intelligence/awareness level.

  21. Nami | Just One Cookbook

    Always enjoy your posts, Elise! This salad looks really refreshing and perfect for summer. I would love to make this someday in the near future. Thank you so much for linking to my Japanese Octopus Salad recipe! xo :)

  22. Janet

    Hi Ellise,
    I want to make this, but I was just wondering; is there a particular reason why the oregano is dried when everything else is fresh?

  23. stephieZ

    I love love love octopus! A friend called me out the other day on it when at a restaurant. She said she knew I would order the grilled octopus since I order octopus anytime I see it on a menu. Luckily a lot of Atlanta restaurants have jumped on the octo-train. I have yet to make it though and this recipe gives me the push I need. Thanks!

  24. Robert Allen

    Looks good! Living in Hawaii, we eat a lot of frsh caught Octopus. Ironically we call it Squid :P

    If you find you have a hard time getting your octopus tender, a great way to get in nice and tender, is to boil it in beer. If you want to get some of the slime off prior to cooking, put the octopus in a large bowl, add Hawaiian (rock) salt and massage and rub the the octopus repeatedly until slime is gone. rinse well to remove salt. Here in Hawaiian, you will often see people with a lot of octopus put it in a portable (well cleaned) cement mixer, as the pounding, spinning action also tenderizes the octopus :D

    If anyone is curious, i believe (aside from taste – octopus is a bit more…robust I think) the mian difference between Calamari and Octopus is – otopus has 8 legs, and Calamari has 10 ( the two extra long arms on the calamari. That and the head.

    great site, love the recipes !

  25. gerard guillemin

    I came on your page by mistake over here on crete I eat ocpotus all the time want to cook them in red wine very slow very nice thank u

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