Here’s an easy, outrageously delicious way to cook baby octopus: simmered until tender, marinated in bold Mediterranean flavours, then seared until crispy. Add a Greek Salad, bread for mopping and a glass of chilled wine for the perfect summer meal!
Crispy marinated baby octopus
Introducing……the RecipeTin Family baby octopus recipe! Tightly held for years, I’ve finally been granted permission to share. I’m completely mad for it – and I’m hoping to make you fall in love with it too.
I know octopus is a mystery to many, unsure how to approach cooking it. So my goal today is to show you how straightforward it actually is and convince you how unbelievably delicious it is! Think – tender flesh with crispy legs, infused with a stack of Mediterranean lemon-garlic flavour. You don’t need any special equipment, and there’s no fiddly preparation required.
A note on the octopus debate – As with a number of other foods, such as veal, and even Australia’s favourite fish – salmon – there are ethical debates regarding the consumption of octopus. For octopus, the conversation centres around its intelligence and sustainable farming. I choose to play my part by sourcing octopus from sustainable Australian sources. Ask your fish monger. They should know!
How to cook baby octopus so it’s tender – with crispy legs!
There seems to be a lot of information “out there” for tips and tricks to tenderise octopus. I don’t get why – it’s simple. Just simmer on a low heat until it’s tender. It usually takes 1 hour, irrespective of octopus size (baby octopus or legs of large ones), and you can just pull one out at any time to check.
Once it’s tender, you could eat it as is, just drizzled with a dressing or a sauce (try chimichurri, romesco or Sauce Vierge). But I like to marinate it in a bold Mediterranean lemon-garlic marinade to infuse with flavour then sear until crispy!
Braise until tender – Simmer the octopus with aromatics over low heat for 1 hour or until it is tender, checking first at 45 minutes. The braising liquid actually has a proper name, court-bouillon, which is a quickly cooked broth commonly used for poaching seafoods.
To check if the octopus is tender, take it out of the pot, cut one leg and have a nibble to check. We want it tender, not tough and chewy. But not overly soft and mushy.
For the baby octopus size I get, it’s usually bang on 1 hour. If they are a little larger, it can take 70 minutes or so. If smaller, they might be done around the 50 minute mark. Expect large octopus legs to take around the same time, despite being thicker. It’s kind of like cooking chuck beef – there’s a minimum time it takes for the meat fibres to breakdown irrespective of the size of the meat you are cooking (small beef stew cubes vs a whole pot roast).
Drain – Once the octopus is tender, drain in a colander then pick out all the bits – bay leaves, onion etc, as best you can. No need to be meticulous here, it’s fine if there’s little bits stuck in the octopus.
Marinate 24 hours – Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl, then pour over the octopus in a bowl or container and toss well. Be sure to do this while the octopus is still hot because it is porous and will absorb the marinade better.
Cool completely then cover and refrigerate to marinate for 12 to 24 hours. Don’t shortcut the marinating time! It’s really worth it, for flavour infusion into the octopus. I tested it with a 6 hour marinate and it had noticeably less flavour.
Sear until crispy! Cook the octopus on the BBQ or in a large skillet on the stove until the legs are golden and crispy. Over medium high heat, it only takes around 4 to 5 minutes. Rotate regularly to get colour all over, but give the octopus most sear-time sitting upright which will get the legs nice and crispy. Everybody’s favourite part!!
To serve, pile the octopus on a platter, drizzle with lemon juice, sprinkle with parsley and chilli and add some fresh lemon wedges so people can add more lemon to taste.
The “hard and fast” method – Octopus can also be cooked by searing very quickly over high heat, like steak. The flesh will be tender although chewier than the slow-simmer method I’m sharing today. Although I’ve had great quick-seared octopus in my time, I find that the quality of octopus really comes into play. Today’s braising method is safer – and to be honest, I prefer it because you can get more flavour in the dish!
What you need to make crispy marinated octopus
The baby octopus
Well, firstly, we need baby octopus. 🙂 It is sold fresh or frozen at seafood shops. If frozen, let it thaw and drain off the excess water before using.
The octopus should be sold already cleaned which means the beak (bone like piece on the head) has been removed. The skin should still be on and we will not be removing it because it softens when cooked.
TIP: You can speed up thawing by putting the frozen octopus in a sink filled with water.
Braising and marinating
And here’s what you need to braise and marinate the octopus – nothing unusual here!
The braising liquid is like a lemony vegetable stock, infused with flavour from lemon, bay leaves, parsley, garlic and black peppercorns. It’s fairly neutral, and this step is more about getting some subtle flavour into the octopus flesh.
The marinade – Octopus is actually very mild and delicate so it’s a terrific sponge for flavour. In this recipe, I’m using a bold Mediterranean marinade made with lemon, garlic, olive oil and a good hit of red chilli flakes for little pops of heat. These flavours are a natural fit with octopus which is a favourite all across the Mediterranean!
The garnish – I use a sprinkle of parsley (just pick some leaves off the stems before adding into the braising liquid), lemon and slices of large red chilli, more for a splash of bright colour rather than extra spiciness (because the large chillies aren’t spicy).
A dish this fabulous needs little more than a simple garden salad and some crusty bread to mop up all those juices you see on the plate. Add a glass of cold wine and you have yourself a spectacular meal for a hot summer day.
Having said that, here’s what you see pictured in photos in this post.
Greek Salad – very fitting for this Mediterranean octopus dish! The big chunks of fresh juicy cucumber and tomato pair very well with the bold garlic flavours of the octopus.
Crushed potato salad with parmesan (photo above) dressed with the flavour-loaded leftover marinade from the octopus. I boiled some baby potatoes with the octopus for the last 30 minutes, then drizzled over the leftover marinade, added an extra squeeze of lemon and olive oil (I was a little short on dressing), sprinkled generously with parmesan, pinch of parsley, then served it on the side with the octopus.
I know this recipe will be far from the most popular on this website, being that octopus is not, well, you know, chicken breast. 😂 And it makes me a little sad to think of all those people in this world who will never experience the awesomeness that is baby octopus.
But for those of you reading, I really hope you give this a go someday! It’s a little special, not something you can find at your usual suburban restaurants. And it’s just so easy!
What do you think?? Have I convinced you to give it a try? If you make it, please let me know what you think! I hope you love it as much as I do. – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Crispy marinated baby octopus
- 2 kg / 4 lb baby octopus , rinsed (Note 1)
- 4 litres / quarts water
- 1 onion , halved, skin on
- 6 garlic cloves , smashed (Note 2)
- 1 tsp black peppercorns (sub 1/2 tsp ground pepper)
- 2 tsp cooking salt (kosher salt)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice (or apple cider vinegar)
- 3 parsley stems (with leaves)
- 2 bay leaves , fresh or dried
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves , very finely minced (or use garlic press)
- 2 tsp lemon zest (one large lemon)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes (red pepper flakes), optional
- 1/2 tsp each cooking/kosher salt and black pepper
Cooking & serving:
- 1 tbsp canola oil (for BBQ or large skillet)
- 2 tsp parsley , finely chopped (optional)
- 1 large red chilli , finely sliced (optional)
- Lemon wedges (highly recommended)
- Braising – Put all the braising liquid ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Add octopus, bring back up to the boil, then reduce the heat to low so the water is simmering very, very gently. Scoop off and discard scum off the surface when it accumulates.
- Braise 1 hour until tender, first checking at the 45 minute mark, or until octopus is tender (take a little nibble to check!).
- Drain octopus in a colander. Pick out and discard the bay leaves, onion etc. Transfer octopus into a bowl.
- Marinate – Mix marinade ingredients in a bowl. Pour over the octopus (while still hot). Toss, allow to fully cool, cover with cling wrap then marinate overnight in the fridge. (Note 4)
- Cook until crispy (BBQ) – Heat a BBQ hot plate on medium high until hot. Spread oil across the hot plate. Use tongs to transfer the octopus onto the BBQ (leave residual oil behind), spread out and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, rotating as needed to brown all over, and most especially ensuring the legs are golden and crispy. (Stove – use a large skillet, cook in 2 or 3 batches).
- Serve – Pile octopus on a plate. Sprinkle with parsley and chilli, add lemon wedges. EAT and be happy! Serve with bread for mopping or see Note 4 for crushed potatoes pictured in post dressed with residual marinade.
Life of Dozer
My, that is one very long tongue.