Octopus Salad (Ensalada de Pulpo)

SaladGluten-FreeLow CarbSeafood

Mexican style octopus salad, with tomatoes, green and red onion, cucumbers, and cilantro.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Octopus Salad

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.

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.

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

Method

1 Boil the octopus in salted water: 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.

raw octopus boiling octopus using tongs to retrieve boiled octopus from pot boiled octopus on tray

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.

cutting boiled octopus

3 Bake: 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).

bed of herbs in pot for octopus salad octopus pieces on herbs in pot baked octopus on herbs in pot

4 Prep the baked octopus pieces: 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 Combine with remaining ingredients (except tomato) and chill:  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.

6 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

Octopus Salad

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

40 Comments / Reviews

No ImageOctopus Salad (Ensalada de Pulpo)

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. katz

    Recipe calls for jalapeno, description refers to chiles. You may prefer chiles.

    My first time with whole octopus. 2 lb frozen cleaned octopus becomes less than a cup by the time it’s done in the oven and cut up. Next time I will parboil and then cut it up. It was no more tender and less flavorful. Alternatively, prepared octopus from the Asian market is no more expensive and a lot less work.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Virginia

    Octopus is very expensive because they are hard to catch. I am Cuban and needed a different way of preparing. Like Michael Jackson’s album: This is it!

  3. Kurt

    So good–I have salad in the fridge and so far, I like it. I went to PR grab and go place last month and had this for the first time….it was SOAKED in EVO —so greasy but good taste. The price was outrageous, $13 for about a cup. So–it got me thinking…I could do this…onion, octo, jalapeno, herbs, salt, pepper, EVO and vinegar (but way less).

    As I sit here waiting…..I’m wondering…..why not minced garlic? I don’t want to throw the flavors off..but does anyone else use garlic?

    xxxxxyyyyy

  4. Cindy C.

    I decided to get out of my comfort zone and clean and cook fresh baby octopus for the first time. It was actually quite easy! After cleaning the octopus, I put the baby octopus in my electric pressure cooker for 13 minutes. They were done to perfection. Your salad recipe was so refreshing and delightful. I am so glad I got over my initial fear about preparing octopus. I will be trying a large octopus next time.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  5. Janet

    I made this receipe as my boyfriend is Puerto Rican. I bought the Octopus at Whole Foods, fresh. It turned out great. Me t week fresh wild Salmon.

    xxxxxyyyyy

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Octopus SaladOctopus Salad (Ensalada de Pulpo)