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Octopus Salad (Ensalada de Pulpo)

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

Octopus Salad
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
Elise Bauer

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)

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs
Total Time 2 hrs 15 mins
Servings 4 servings
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
    Elise Bauer
    boiling octopus
    Elise Bauer
    using tongs to retrieve boiled octopus from pot
    Elise Bauer
    boiled octopus on tray
    Elise Bauer
  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
    Elise Bauer
  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
    Elise Bauer
    octopus pieces on herbs in pot
    Elise Bauer
    baked octopus on herbs in pot
    Elise Bauer
  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.)

    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer
    Elise Bauer

    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.

    Elise Bauer
    cooked chopped octopus pieces for octopus salad
    Elise Bauer
  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.

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