Our family absolutely loves grilled octopus. Octopus is not a cheap dish to make as its considered a delicacy; and if it turns out chewy or rubbery, it’s a big letdown, especially if you’re serving it to guests. It can be intimidating to work with, but it’s really quite simple. People who have never tried pulpo, or octopus in Italian, have often asked me what it tastes like. Honestly, it’s hard to describe. It’s slightly like calamari, but not exactly. It has a stronger taste of the Mediterranean, so if you’re a seafood lover, give octopus a try! Octopus is a common food in Mediterranean cuisine and may come from Spain, Portugal, Tunisia, Turkey or Greece. It is especially common in the coastal towns along the sea. In Spain, octopus is a local delicacy and restaurants that specialize in serving octopus are referred to as pulperias. In Greece, octopus is served as a meze along with a glass of ouzo and is prepared with olive oil, garlic, oregano, pepper and lemon juice, much like the way it’s prepared in Italian cuisine.
The trick to tender octopus is to cook it thoroughly in a pot of boiling water before grilling. There are many recipes out there that claim that adding a wine cork to your pot of water tenderizes the pulpo, but we don’t do that and have had great success with making tender octopus. The octopus can be cooked up to one day ahead and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to grill it. The grilling process is really just to give the octopus a nice char and impart that smoky flavor that only a barbecue can provide. Doing it over charcoal would be amazing, too! Don’t leave it on the grill for too long, though, or it will get tough. You’re aiming for a nice char, but keep in mind, it’s already fully cooked.
If you can find octopus that’s already cleaned, that’s ideal. Cleaning it yourself isn’t too big of a deal, though, and typically you’ll find larger octopus in a vacuum sealed package in the freezer sections of some higher-end, specialty grocery stores that are uncleaned, usually 4-6 pounds whole. You can also ask your local fishmonger if they can get it for you and clean it, too. Again, while it may seem intimidating, you really only have to do two things: 1). remove the flappy piece of cartilage on the underside of the octopus and 2). core out the center of the body where the ink sac is. This is easily done with a paring knife. See my step-by-step pics below!
Grilled Pulpo (Octopus)
- 1 whole octopus, cleaned, about 4-6 pounds
- Fresh lemons
- 2 dried bay leaves
- A good pinch of black peppercorns
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Italian parsley, chopped
- Pinch of flaky sea salt
- Step 1 Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Step 2 Dip your octopus (tentacles first) into the boiling water carefully, but quickly. This will allow the long tentacles to curl up. Do this two to three times.
- Step 3 Drop the whole octopus in the pot and add half of a large lemon, the bay leaves and peppercorns. Cover and return to a boil, if necessary. Reduce to a slow boil so the water doesn’t foam up and bubble over (which makes a mess on your stove!). Cook for one hour. The octopus should be covered with the water.
- Step 4 Test with a knife to ensure tenderness. Remove from the pot by draining into a colander over the sink. Allow to cool. If grilling the next day or several hours later, keep the pulpo in the fridge.
- Step 5 When ready to grill, preheat your gas or charcoal grill until it reaches about 400-450 degrees.
- Step 6 Slice the octopus lengthwise, almost like fingers, removing and disarming the skinny tips of the tentacles. Drizzle with a little bit of the olive oil and lemon juice on both sides.
- Step 7 Place across the grates of your grill so the fish doesn’t fall through the grates. Char a few minutes on each side, but don’t overcook it (if you like it crispy, let it go a little longer).
- Step 8 Cut the pieces into the desired size and arrange on a platter. Add more freshly squeezed lemon juice, more extra virgin olive oil chopped Italian parsley and a pinch of flaky sea salt.
- Step 9 Serve with additional lemon wedges, if desired.