Sous Vide Octopus

February 18, 2013

Sous Vide Octopus

Never have I felt more of a middle class tosser than when I stumbled in drunk one evening and exclaimed, loudly and with much enthusiasm, ‘LET’S SOUS VIDE A QUINCE!‘ I then proceeded to heat up the sous vide, put the fruit inside and promptly forget about it. Excellent.

Things that work sous vide, I’ve come to realise, are cuts of meat like pork belly which need long cooking to break down the gnarly bits. That said, I cooked a piece of lamb belly which I thought would work brilliantly and it came out like a big chewy piece of fat, which essentially, it was; the worst thing about that was the fact I’d invited five other people around to eat it.

Eggs work well, though I’m not sure I’ll be busting out the machine every time I want to eat one (read: I won’t); the most amusing bit  is when you crack open the shell and a poached egg just plops out.

Anyway, I’d not tried fish or seafood yet, and after hearing mixed results I decided to steer clear of fillets and go for something that’s notoriously difficult to tenderise; the octopus. I bought a ready frozen octopus, which immediately takes care of one step of the process (freezing helps to tenderise).

So I picked up a 1.5kg beast  for the downright shocking sum of £18. When I was in the fishmonger I heard someone shouting EIGHTEEN POUNDS! and then realised that it was me. I tweeted about this afterwards and loads of people answered saying helpful things like ‘I bought a huge one in Lewisham market for £2.50 the other day!’ but although I have fairly shonky standards on many things, I’m not sure I’ll ever begrudge paying a lot of money to know that I’m getting decent seafood. Still, octopus is expensive, FYI.



So it was defrosted, unpacked, hacked and re-(vac)-packed with some garlic cloves, parsley stalks and olive oil. I had intentions of dressing it afterwards with chilli, garlic, parsley and lemon, mainly because that sounded summery and I’m sick of winter. I cooked it for 4 hours at 85 degrees as suggested by many online sources. When it emerged however, the bag contained an alarming amount of red liquid. It basically looked like an octopus in a bag of blood. I e-mailed an on-line fishmonger whom I trust and he said that although octopus can leach some red liquid occasionally when over cooked, he’d never seen anything to this extent. He even contacted the executive chef at Brindisa (“they cook a lot of octopus”), who apparently had no idea either. So, how did it taste?

The answer is: I don’t know. Neither I nor my partner of equally strong stomach could bring ourselves to eat it (hungover? What? Me?). This fact coupled with some er, logistical issues (basically the octopus being in a different house to the one we were in come dinner time) means that I effectively pissed £18 up the wall, not to mention wasted a good octopus and that just makes me feel SICK, quite frankly.

So me and the sous vide are having a bad run; first the lamb, then the drunken quince incident and now the case of the bloody octopus. Bad luck comes in threes?

If anyone has any ideas about what went wrong then please do pipe up…

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  • Reply Ed Johnson February 18, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    I’m not sure how much of a problem that really is… You know the instruction to boil octopus normally? Totally unnecessary. Chuck it in a stockpot with just a big slug of olive oil and cook it gently, and it’ll spit out as much liquid as you can see in the bag, essentially self-braising. I think it’s Locatelli’s idea, but I can’t remember where I first saw it. It does work though, and the texture’s a lot better than doing it in water.

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 2:40 pm

      Ooh that’s a really interesting technique. Never heard of cooking it like that before. I shall try!

  • Reply Ed Johnson February 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    With apologies for the Guardian link, there’s lots of stuff in the comments that seems to agree.

    and yes, £18 is a lot to pay for an octopus. That being said, sous vide it and use it in the Batali recipe w/ tomato sauce, green chillis and mint (sounds bizarre, I know, but is divine – Babbo book) or smack it on the bbq after drying the surface. I love octopus. 🙂

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      Fab, will give it a read, thank you! Yeah I love it too. Especially on the BBQ…

  • Reply msmarmitelover February 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm


  • Reply Lizzie February 18, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Bleugh. I wonder if it needed a quick blanch in some water before then being sous vided? I know nothing of octopus though so I’m as baffled as you. Shame really as your idea sounded great!

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      I don’t know. I’m starting to think it was fairly normal but just looked so dramatic for being in the vac pack. I want to try again but so expensive!

  • Reply suzieflahs February 18, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    What’s that word for gagging and laughing at the same time?
    I cannot for the life of me see why anyone would find the thought and look of a whole boiled octopus palatable.

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm

      Lagging? Gaughing?

  • Reply Food Urchin February 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I think I know what went wrong Helen, you paid 18 quid for an octopus.

    Let’s just forget about the rest.

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 4:18 pm

      Can I blame the hangover? (Again)

  • Reply Peter Minaki February 18, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    The traditional way to tenderize octopus is to braise it in its own water added. The octopus will secrete its own liquid which is also the braising liquid,- red/purpleish in colour and…there is no need to add any water.

    I did a dinner with a chef who did sous vide octopus and it took about 5-6 hours to be tender. It was fantastic. Nothing wrong with the liquid colour and your octopus should have been fork tender.

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      Arrrrrrrgh! (Thank you)

  • Reply Shed February 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    As someone who regularly plays with bits of dead animal for both fun and money, that bloody octopus looks well gross.

    I’ve only ever simmered it for a long time in a rich tomato, brandy sauce (to which I obviously added cream to serve). It was fucking ace, but not really the summer smash you were after.

    Oxtail is fantastic in the sous vide wotsit, cooked forever at around 80 degrees, because all that lovely collagen will break down and make it wonderful. Though to be honest, you can get similar results by using your oven, a paper cartouche and cooking overnight.

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      That’s the thing, I mean if we weren’t so hungover…I’m so annoyed! But felt I really should post it. I’ve done pulpo a la gallega before and I just simmered it that time, but didn’t notice any red liquid. Anyhoo, I am loving the sound of the oxtail! Love a bit of the oxy tail.

  • Reply Miss Whiplash February 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Looks good – I’d have eaten it…
    I am sad on your behalf that you didn’t 🙁

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      You say you’d have eaten it, and that is because you didn’t think you would vomit every time you breathed in.

  • Reply Miudezas February 18, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    All you need is a pressure cooker and one hour! Good luck next time (maybe try a recipe for Portuguese polvo à lagareiro? here’s a recipe in English but you really should slow-cook the octopus in a pressure cooker to avoid that rubber-chewing feeling:

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      I can’t find my pressure cooker…

  • Reply Su-Lin February 18, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Oh gawd, that looks revolting…

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      Yeah….not appetising is it?!

  • Reply Miss Whiplash February 18, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    That is – that is exactly because of that 🙂

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm

      Well, quite. Lovely turn of phrase I had there too…ha ha

  • Reply Y February 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    Cut the bag open and chuck the octopus on the bbq for some extra nice charry bits!

    • Reply Helen February 18, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      Yes! Well the plan was to char it on a griddle before dressing it.

  • Reply Jo February 19, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Oh christ… looks like vac-packed cthulhu. Terrifying.

    As the proud new owner of a sous vide machine, I totally agree with you about the tough cuts – sous vide pork belly, lamb neck and beef cheek have all been properly amazing. Am surprised the lamb belly didn’t work out…still, at least it’s a relatively cheap cut to screw up. 18 quids worth of octopus on the other hand…ouch! I feel your pain.

    Was going to try sous viding some squid soon, but you might have put me off!

    • Reply Helen February 19, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Oh no don’t let me put you off! It was mostly me being shit. I’m going to try it again…

  • Reply Gill Bland February 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Poor Octopus. I love octopus (as you know – I’m a squid fan too) but that does look grim. The post made me laugh a lot. I know it’s mean but I really enjoy hearing when things go wrong for food bloggers. It makes me feel more normal. Please keep updating us with your sous vide escapades

    • Reply Helen February 19, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Ha! Yes I thought it might be useful for someone else if it happens to them.

  • Reply Becs @ Lay the table February 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I have had a really bad habit recently of messing up my baking when using expensive ingredients like nuts and 70% cocoa solids chocolate so you’re not alone!

    • Reply Helen February 19, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Yeah I just don’t bother baking really – I’m just a but crap at it.

  • Reply Susan February 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    A few people have said this already and I’m sorry for repeating: the octopus was actually as it was supposed to be. I self braise in a covered pot at about 150 degrees for several hours (just the octopus and some herbs/garlic) and it releases liquid of exactly that color and roughly that quantity. So in fact you successfully sous vided your octopus. Has it been relegated to the dustbin of history?

    • Reply Helen February 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      It has indeed…

  • Reply Alan February 19, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    A little scary at first, but I’d love to give it a try sometime.

    • Reply Helen February 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm

      yeah, I’m definitely giving it another go!

  • Reply John Gionleka February 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    I run the risk of repeating what has already been said in that the octopus is essentially a rubber ball full of water. What you could have done was to place the octopus in a large pot with a thimbleful of water, cook it for about an hour. Then you could take it out, cut it into pieces or keep whole, put in a sous vide bag along with your herbs, garlic, olive oil and vinegar/lemon or a ragu type sauce and cook it the way you did for divine results. You were on the right track but for this small omission. John

    • Reply Helen February 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      Hey John! Also….arggghhhh! I’m so sad about the octopus. I should’ve asked you in the first place huh?

  • Reply John Gionleka February 19, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Not really judging by the number of responses you got on your misadventure. Great fun to read too. I think many people consider sous vide to be the starting gun in the cooking process. Often true but as your octopus has shown – and tripe would be the same – it can occasionally be the finishing line in cooking. How about tripe sous vide before winter is over?

    • Reply Helen February 19, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      You know what? That has not even occurred to me until this moment. Yes so I have always thought of sous vide as being the first process. I was going to grill the octopus later you see. I’d not even thought about using it differently until now. I do like tripe, although I had a bad experience with it once and I’m trying to like it again – I had a VERY musty tasting piece that made me feel ill. I am a fan though so perhaps a tripe project could help me to rediscover the love.

  • Reply Caroline Taylor February 21, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Really interesting, I’ve never seen octopus sous-vide and it never even occured to me until I saw this! Best of luck with your next attempt.

    • Reply Helen February 21, 2013 at 1:25 pm


  • Reply Shu Han February 23, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    know nothing about octopus sorry but it’s good you shared that horrible experience anyway; learning a lot from the comments above! good luck for the next octopus (you know you can’t give up now right, no pressure.)

    • Reply Helen February 23, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      The comments are brilliant. This is what blogging is all about! I DO have to make it again though…

  • Reply Bertrand February 24, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    simmer it/ pasteurise in hot salted water for 10 minutes.

    Cold it down in cold water.

    Put it in the thermocirculator for 24 hours.


  • Reply The Grubworm February 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Not being an octopus expert, I’m rather glad I read this post. Now, if I ever try to cook a whole octopus I won’t run away screaming when it leaks a pool of angry red liquid. Wouldn’t want to try it after reading HP Lovecraft though…

    • Reply Helen February 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

      Ha ha! Indeed re: Lovecraft…

  • Reply Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) February 27, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Octopus! I’ve never seen one at a fish place before, maybe bits but never the whole thing! Wow. This does look crazy and kind of gross. Sous vide method fascinates me though.

  • Reply Rick Wolfe March 2, 2013 at 1:41 am

    Far too hot. Use fresh octopus and sous vide at 58degrees. If tenderised already will be great and a little sashimi-like. Yes you will have red-brown liquid that needs tossing out. I needs only not get to 58 in middlee so 1 hour is enough.

  • Reply Z March 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    I’ve cooked octopus like this sous vide before (in a restaurant in Paris). Did you massage it for about 15 minutes before you vacume packed it for cooking? Normally you should use something like coarse salt or buckwheat (i prefer the latter) to “exfoliate” the octopus. You’ll get a lot of slime coming off the octupus which you should rinse. As for the red liquid, this is normal as far as I understand. You should have just taken the tentacles out, cleaned the liquid off, and slapped the octopus onto a hot grill or pan to caramelise and finish with salt and lemon. Yum.

    • Reply Helen March 5, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      I didn’t do that, no! I saw the sushi film the other day arrgggh can’t remember what it was called and I remember they massaged it for 50 minutes!

    • Reply Helen March 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      Sounds delicious, Douglas. No, really. Squid sundae?

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