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My local awesome fish market sells whole octopi, and my friend is having a BBQ. I figured nothing would be cooler than showing up with a whole octopus to throw on the grill, but most recipes I'm seeing are either for a "Greek-style" preparation that includes pre-steaming or poaching and tons of spicing, or else for baby octopi, which I'm assuming have a pretty different texture profile (being much tinier if nothing else).

I can of course poach the thing beforehand, but I've recently been in Cambodia and Thailand where I had lots of grilled octopus on the street, and I'm pretty sure they do no such thing. I'd prefer that to the Greek method which to me feels over-spiced and over-done for a BBQ.

Any tips? Can I not just clean, skewer and lightly salt/oil the tentacles and grill them whole? What about an overnight marinade? I had a hell of a time finding non-Greek, non-baby grilled octopus recipes.

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    I've never grilled it myself, but from what I've been told, you either have to cook it quick, or slow ... anything in between is rubbery. I would suspect that with quick cooking the issue would be properly cooking both the tentacles and the head over high heat, with a rather odd shape. – Joe May 23 '14 at 15:38
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    Oh -- one way to tell if it's been cooked before hand -- how did the arms droop before they tossed 'em on the grill? They should have some firmness to 'em if they were parboiled, but limp if they were completely raw. – Joe May 23 '14 at 15:43
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Full-size octopus are tough and rubbery when cooked, so the purpose of pre-cooking is to tenderize. According to some research, this can be done by hanging the octopus out to dry and then beating the crap out of it, but that sounds like more trouble than simply poaching.

If your octopus is already cleaned (i.e. ink sac, stomach, and beak removed) then all you need to do is pop it into a covered pot on high heat - after a few minutes, it will give up a lot of its liquid. Turn the heat down to low, keep covered, and let it braise for at least an hour (or more - a restaurant I used to work in that served octopus cooked it sous vide for a good 10 hours). If the pot starts to run dry, add a bit of water. You can also add flavoring agents like garlic, wine, herbs, etc. to the braise if you like or just let the octopus hang out in its own juices.

After braising, you could either break down your octopus right away or bring it whole to the BBQ (somewhat diminished in size, but still impressive!) and cut it up there. You will want to separate the tentacles from the body and cut the head sac into strips either way. If you leave it whole, it will cook unevenly because of the varying thickness of the flesh. Cook over the hottest part of the grill to finish, just to bring the flesh up to temperature and add a little char.

Skewering the tentacles with a little olive oil and salt will work just fine, but the flavor is fairly mild if you didn't add anything to the braise so a sauce or glaze is a fine idea. That same restaurant got rave reviews with a simple sauce of olive oil, garlic, paprika, and a touch of sherry vinegar.

  • Thanks! I had guessed some of that myself, but your comment was informative and authoritative, really appreciate it :) – tekunokurato May 24 '14 at 19:11
  • Cheers. Have fun breaking down your octopus, by the way - it's one of the most bizarre food prep activities I've ever had to do. – logophobe May 24 '14 at 19:18

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