There are bits in my (first-ever bought) sushi book that I have reserved for when I can have access to fresh seafood, though sometimes the supermarkets here surprise me – among the pitiful choice of fish, fresh squid and octopus are occasionally available (probably because the locals boast a healthy supply of long-term foreigners. Central Cambridge versus Cambourne – one is a university town with no apparent fishmongers, one is the commuter town with a fishmongers in their Morrisons, the closest equivalent in Australia would be Woolworths).
I’ve had more experience with squid which is more evident in a few of my past lunches but not octopus – but enough drooling over some takomeshi ekiben and a lucky day at the fish section meant I had to give it a go. Takomeshi, tako nigiri sushi and takoyaki all use pre-blanched octopus, and though the instructions in my book would of been ok I found that the internet supplied both cleaning and blanching methods that seem better.
At the time of writing I’ve gotten around to prepare the second octopus in my life, though this time it was whole and not the best as it was the last one in the fishmonger (the choice being takoyaki or no takoyaki). So as always – try to pick the best looking tako especially if you plan on seeing its cute suckered-arms.
The instructions for the blanching don’t require cleaning the octopus – as in gutting – but I prefer it this way so less water is used for the blanching stage. Essentially, you cut off the a legs just below the eyes and below the ‘head sac’ – traditional cleaning does not use the part of the head where the eyes are. Then extract the guts from the head cavity, and you may turn it inside out temporarily to aid this task.
For prosperity I am saving the blanching instructions from Naoko’s blog (as sometimes I’ve saved links only for the site to disappear…)
- Clean and rinse the octopus. Watch out for sand in the suckers! For stubborn bits, sprinkle some salt and rub the areas carefully.
- Boil plain water in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, add a large bag of hojicha tea leaves to the water*. Add a splash of sake. Allow a few seconds to infuse the flavours into cooking water.
- Slowly lower the legs into the boiling water about half way up, wait for about 10 seconds and lift again so the legs set a nice curl. Then submerge the legs completely along with the head.
- Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 10-20 minutes**, then remove from the water (I had 283g of leg and head meat and cooked for about 15 minutes). If you had to remove a bit of the skin from the octopus because it was beaten up you are probably not using it for sushi so you can optionally cool the tea cooking water and store the octopus in the solution in the fridge until you need it (remove the tea bags though). Otherwise, store in a sealed container without the tea water in the fridge.
* The tea is optional, but by infusing the cooking water with hojicha, this will improve the colour and flavour of the octopus. As with Naoko, I’d also trust the advice from a sushi chef!
** If you are going to cook it further as for takomeshi, a shorter time wont hurt – besides, the hot octopus would still be cooking briefly right after extracting it from the cooking water. For the paranoid: use a skewer to pierce the thickest part of the leg meat – if it comes out cleanly then it is cooked
The cooked octopus can be then chopped up in the desired sizes – it should last 2-3 days in the fridge.