Octopus: The New Calamari?

Octopus has been spotted on many food trend list predictions for this year, including Pinterest’s top 2017 emerging trends. Calamari is already a staple at many restaurants, making octopus a logical next tier item when considering innovative seafood dishes to keep your menu fresh. Part of the cephalopod family that also includes squid, octopus has meaty, tender flesh with great flavor and a welcomed natural chewiness. It is a versatile alternative to calamari that’s on-trend, profitable, and an increasingly intriguing menu item for customers.

How to Cook

This eight-tentacled marine mollusk is characterized by its distinct round head, bilateral symmetry, and legs and arms. Generally a tough protein, it can be prepared in a variety of ways such as sous vide then finished off in a wood-fired grill or oven. It can also be poached until tender, cooled to room temperature, and then finished off on the grill. Try marinating overnight in the refrigerator for cold preparations such as salads. Another technique to consider is confit, which renders more tender meat. Grilling (after it has been poached) is another effective way to maximize flavor because the charring adds another dimension with crispy skin and tentacles. Cook time with this method is minimal but really ups the flavor and gives it a crunchier exterior and tender interior. As a general rule, octopus requires tenderization before searing or grilling (light cooking so the consistency doesn’t turn into rubber) or long moist-heat cooking (braising, sous vide, etc.) to break down collagen and tenderize the protein.

Mad About Mediterranean Flavors

Octopus stands up to assertive seasonings and a wide array of flavor combinations, making it the perfect canvas for experimentation and thoughtful approaches. Italian and Mediterranean applications work well with octopus and some of the simplest, most common ingredients such as olive oil, lemon, garlic, and fresh herbs let octopus shine. Briny ingredients such as olives and capers add sourness and complexity. Since it works so well with these flavor notes, it can also be a healthy choice for health-conscious consumers because octopus is low in fat and carbs but meaty enough to satiate. Take a cue from Italian chefs and cook low and slow in wine, garlic, and lemon, then finish it on the grill to get a good char and build flavors.

Acid is a key component when seasoning octopus; briefly sauté before serving with a citrus-based dressing as an appetizer or enhance with accompaniments such as greens or purées. It can also be a good accent in pasta-based dishes, such as grilled octopus served with handmade pasta, high-quality olive oil, and preserved lemon. The ingredients may sound simple but show the craftsmanship and care your kitchen has for the product. Let the ingredients speak for themselves.

Branch Out

On-trend poke – the Hawaiian chopped seafood dish featuring flavors of soy, sesame oil, and scallions – often features octopus. Asian flavors can also be adapted to octopus – Korean kimchi and pickled mushrooms, Japanese togarashi and seaweed, and Thai curry are just a few possibilities for experimenting with ethnic flavors. Mexican and Latin applications are another way to maximize octopus flavor and appeal. Typically served with chicken, a mole sauce can be reinvented by swapping in octopus in Mexico’s beloved dish. Explore different regional flavors with creative preparations such as preparing sous vide, then flash grill octopus and serve with a bold chili aioli. Lime and jalapeños work just as well as lemon and chili flakes, opening the door to many possibilities.

octopus salad

View our recipe for Grilled Octopus Salad