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I saw a recipe (in Croatian, check out if you understand) for making octopus salad that says boil the octopus with a piece of wine cork. The article doesn't explain what effect the cork gives. Do you know what the purpose of it may be when added to boiling octopus?

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The muscle fibers of octopus are very thin compared to other species, arranged in multiple layers and alternating rings, which are then even further reinforced with collagen, 3-5 times more than regular fish muscle fiber. It's basically the reinforced concrete in the world of muscle fibers.

There are exactly two ways to get tender octopus:

  • Destroy the collagen by force or to cook it for a very long time like a stew
  • Barely cook it to a core temperature of not more than 130-135°F/55-57°C. At 140°/60° temperature the collagen layers will contract and you are screwed.

Note that these two methods generate edible octopus, but with different texture.

The wine cork serves no purpose. If it has any effect at all, it will negatively affect the destruction of the collagen, as tannin is actually used to cross-link, a process to make the collagen stable and durable, which is the complete opposite of what you want, when you want tender octopus.

References:
[1]: On Food and Cooking
[2]: Stabilization of Collagen by Its Interaction with Tannin
[3]: Tannin used for the conservation of leather by stabilizing collagen

As an unrelated side note, octopus and squids have the least flavorful flesh of all fish and molluscs, as they use Trimethylamine N-oxide for osmotic balance; which happens to be completely tasteless. Other species use tasty amino acids. Unless you happen to have one as free by-catch on your own fisherboat, there is not much reason to invest the time and costs to make a dish out of it.

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    good answer, but I'm a bit perplexed by the notion that Octopus and squids are not worth eating? – Agos Oct 16 '15 at 9:36
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I cook octopus from time to time, and I always put a wine cork in the boil water together with the octopus, because my mother in-law told me that the high content of the tannin from the cork (of red wine) makes the octopus tender.

  • I like your answer. Could this be more of a "we've just always done it this way" sort of thing? – Terry Oct 9 '15 at 22:02
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    All respect to his/her mother in law, but It's not an answer.It's following another recipe, namely the one of his/her mother in law. More interesting would be: Does it increase tenderness? Why? How? Alternatives? Did you try without putting a cork? "Because they told me to" does not constitute an answer. – Willem van Rumpt Oct 10 '15 at 15:18
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In Galicia, corks were tied to squids. That made it easier for the cook to raise and lower the squid out of boiling water - the historic recipe calls for doing that to the squid 5-7 times. With modern cooking utensils, that practice became obsolete, and wine cork is thrown in the pot purely as a historic tradition.

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    This must be an ancient recipe indeed if it predates the invention of the modern "big-spoon" – Lorel C. Sep 4 '16 at 14:24
  • ....hours later: oh, haha, good one! [sorry, gullible wasn't in my dictionary] – Lorel C. Sep 4 '16 at 19:36
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I would guess that it is the wine residue in the cork that helps.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/dining/05curious.html?_r=0

Roger,

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In my humble experience, cooking squid or octopus is either very short or very long and slow.

Squid or octopus in any Mediterranean salad is parboiled for a minute or less in acid liquid, water with either lemon, vinegar, wine and then cooled. This results in something 'chewy' for a salad. I doubt large pieces of octopus would work.

If you desire tender, then long and slow is the way to go.

Roger,

  • 2
    This doesn't really answer his question. I think he wants to know what effect the cork has on the creature he's cooking, not how to cook it well. Although i would like to try a bigger piece slow boiled. – Terry Oct 9 '15 at 22:00
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    I do not believe a simple cork adds or helps cooking octopus or squid, a cork saturated with a good wine may help, I think the idea is to add some acid to the cooking liquid. – R. Beno Oct 9 '15 at 22:40
  • I do not have the science at my finger tips, but when octopus or squid is cooked for several minutes, it gets very tough, if you cook it much longer at a lower temperature, it will finally break down and tenderize. – R. Beno Oct 9 '15 at 22:45

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