This easy, foolproof recipe for tender baked octopus in the oven is the Greek way to cook a whole octopus. Also works with just the tentacles.
Contrary to grilling, which requires a certain preparation (such as boiling or sun-drying) for the octopus to become tender, this Greek octopus recipe is so simple and delicious that you'll be making it again and again.
Cooking octopus this way makes it perfect for mezze (appetizer), and you can also include it in this greek mezze platter (appetizer spread) with some homemade taramasalata (fish roe salad) (especially if you adore everything seafood!).
However, I have to say that as much as I love this oven baked octopus, my best octopus recipe is this Mediterranean octopus stew with elbow macaroni. This dish is a complete meal on its own and it's one of my favorite seafood dishes since I was a child. It's very rich and flavorful and doesn't need anything else on the side except maybe for a green salad.
For this Mediterranean octopus recipes you'll need the following simple ingredients:
- Octopus: You can use a whole octopus or just tentacles and it can be fresh or frozen.
- Balsamic vinegar
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Black peppercorns or ground black pepper.
- Bay leaves
- All spice kernels
- Dried oregano
- Sea salt (just a pinch)
This Baked Mediterranean octopus recipe is so simple than even someone with zero expertise in the kitchen will have no trouble making.
All you have to do is follow this simple step by step guide for how to cook octopus in the oven:
Step 1: Make a cross with two sheets of foil on top of your kitchen counter and then place a large piece of parchment paper on the center of the cross.
Step 2: Place the octopus on the parchment paper. Pour the olive oil and balsamic over the octopus, add the rest of the ingredients and wrap firmly with the foil.
Step 3: Place on a baking tray and bake until tender.
How to clean octopus:
If you buy an octopus that has not been cleaned, you'll have to do it by yourself.
First, using a sharp knife make two cuts below and above the eyes in order to remove them.
Then, make a cut through the sac, and remove all the internal organs by pulling them with your fingers.
Cut the flesh around the beak and remove it (in many cases you can also press the beak with your finger and it will pop out).
Tenderize the octopus by beating with a kitchen hammer (if the octopus was frozen you don't need to do that).
Finally, wash the octopus under running cold water.
You can also watch this YouTube video for how to clean octopus.
How to choose octopus
Try to find one that comes from the Mediterranean or the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic is saltier than the Pacific something which produces tastier fish and seafood.
Source: Purchase from a reputable source (a trusted fishmonger, seafood market, or grocery store known for their quality seafood).
Freshness: Fresh octopus should have a pleasant sea-like smell, without any overpowering fishy odor.
Texture: The octopus should have a firm, yet tender texture. Avoid octopus that appears slimy or mushy.
Appearance: The skin of a fresh octopus should be glossy and have a vibrant color, typically ranging from a purplish hue to pinkish-gray. Avoid octopus with dull, discolored, or dry-looking skin.
Frozen Octopus: If you're purchasing frozen octopus, ensure that it has been properly stored and frozen. Look for octopus that is individually quick frozen (IQF) as it helps maintain the texture and quality. Avoid octopus with signs of freezer burn, such as frost or ice crystals.
How to make octopus tender
In the Mediterranean area, fishermen have a unique method to tenderize octopus. They pound it and then rub it against the rocks in order to "break" the hard tissue and make its flesh tender.
This procedure however is very cruel, since many times this is done while the octopus is still alive (though there are studies that suggest that octopus perceive pain differently than mammals).
If you buy a fresh octopus, the best way to tenderize it is to beat it with a kitchen hammer. This way the flesh won't be chewy after cooking.
A second way is to freeze it for 10-15 days (some people say that 3-4 days are enough but I haven't been able to test that). The freezer will have the same effect as the traditional pounding.
If you buy a frozen octopus, it will not need tenderizing.
This baked octopus will last for 3 days when stored in the fridge inside an airtight container .
It can be eaten cold or reheated in the microwaves on medium-high for 2-3 minutes.
Side dishes for baked octopus
Are you wondering what side dish goes with octopus? This can depend on the cuisine.
Portuguese octopus (polvo) is usually served with boiled potatoes, while Greek octopus is served with other mezze dishes.
- Octopus has high water content, so it will shrink a lot and reduce in size during baking.
- DON’T add too much salt. Octopus is already salty so it will need minimum salt.
- You can keep the juices after baking and use it in a seafood risotto or other seafood dishes.
Easy Baked Mediterranean Octopus Recipe
- 2.5 – 3 pounds (1,1 – 1,4 kg) octopus, fresh (or thawed if frozen)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 all spice kernels
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- 1 whole garlic clove, with the skin (optional)
- Some extra olive oil and balsamic vinegar for serving
- Preheat your oven to 320°F (160°C)
- Clean the octopus (unless it's already cleaned): Using a sharp knife make two cuts below and above the eyes in order to remove them. Then, make a cut through the sac, and remove all the internal organs by pulling them with your fingers. Cut the flesh around the beak and remove it (in many cases you can also press the beak with your finger and it will pop out).Tenderize the octopus by beating with a kitchen hammer (if the octopus was frozen you don't need to that).Finally, wash the octopus under running cold water.
- Wrap with foil: Make a cross with two sheets of foil, about 1.5-2 feet each. Place a piece of baking paper on the center of the cross and place the octopus on top of it. Pour the olive oil and balsamic over the octopus, add the rest of the ingredients and wrap firmly with the foil.
- Bake: Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes. Unwrap and check to see if the octopus is fork tender. If it seems a little tough, bake for 30 more minutes.
- Unwrap, take the octopus out of the foil and cut into pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and some balsamic vinegar and serve.
- Octopus contains a lot of water, so it will shrink a lot during cooking. That's why you'll see a lot of liquid inside the foil once it's baked. Discard this liquid or use it as a broth to flavor seafood dishes and risotti. It will infuse them with a rich, briny taste. Reduce the salt in the recipes accordingly, since this octopus broth is salty.
- The secret for tender octopus: beat it with a kitchen hammer in order to "break" the hard tissue and make its flesh tender. This way it won't be chewy after cooking. Alternatively, store it in the freezer for 10-15 days. The freezer will have the same effect as the beating.
- If you buy frozen octopus, thaw it overnight in the fridge and cook it the next day.
A fool-proof way to cook a whole octopus is to baek it in the oven. To do that, you'll have to put it on a large piece of aluminum foil and add some olive oil, vinegar (or wine) and a few spices. Then wrap it tightly with the foil and bake in a low and slow oven until it becomes tender and delicious.
This is a great example of the philosophy of the Mediterranean cuisine: easy, simple, healthy, with local ingredients.
You can cook frozen octopus like a fresh one, as long as you thaw it first. To thaw it properly, store it in the refrigerator from the night before, or place it in a very large bowl with lukewarm water for a few hours.
Baking time for octopus in the oven will depend on the size of the octopus.
Generally, for a 2.5 – 3 pounds (1,1 – 1,4 kg) octopus, you will need approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Make sure you tenderize the octopus by beating it with a kitchen hammer before cooking.
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