Oct 26, 2012

The Hawaiian Octopus

"He'e", Hawaiian for Octopus
Octopus is not something most Westerners eat on a regular basis, unless they frequent sushi bars. I guess it's mind over matter. There's something very strange about eating the tentacle of an octopus with its suction cups. Once you've gotten over the idea, octopus is actually very good, and has become one of my favorite seafoods. In Hawaii, and particularly here on Moloka'i, hunting for and eating octopus is very common, and has been since the ancient Hawaiians were here. The Hawaiian word of octopus is "he'e", but they are usually called "squid" locally. He'e can be caught by hand, speared, or tricked out of their holes with a special lure made with a large cowry shell. There are over 70 different types of octopus found in Hawaiian waters. The most frequently seen is the day octopus, or he'e mauli, probably because, as the common name might suggest, they are more active during the daytime and retreat into their lairs (holes in the reef) at night. He'e mauli are found from shallow water to at least 150 feet deep, and geographically span the Tropical Indo-West Pacific region from Hawaii to East Africa. Compared to the giant octopus of the Pacific Northwest, which reaches weights of 90 pounds, the Hawaiian he'e mauli are small, perhaps reaching a maximum arm span of two to three feet and maximum weight of 10 pounds. Hawaiian octopus are, none-the-less, a very popular food item and are sought after by local fishermen.

Octopus is eaten in many cultures, and is a common food in Mediterranean and Portuguese cuisine. It is also a popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine, including sushi, takoyaki, and akashiyaki. In Korea, some small species are sometimes eaten alive as a novelty food. A live octopus is usually sliced up, and it is eaten while still squirming. Most Westerners would turn their noises up at this.

Preparing He'e (Octopus):
Tenderizing: He'e is very tough and must be tenderized. I have heard that some locals here in Hawaii actually have cement mixers that they use solely for the purpose of tenderizing he'e. The traditional way to tenderize fresh he'e is to stand beside a rock, which is at your feet level. Grab the he'e by its head, putting your two fingers under the head to hold it (it's slippery!) Bring the he'e up high over your head and throw it down hard with all your strength onto a piece of concrete slab or a rock. Do this beating action 3, 4 or 5 times (you will notice that the he'e contract or tense up.) Then, holding onto the head, you need to rub it with sea salt or lomi (massage), and swirl it around on the rock for a minute or so. Repeat these two actions again - beating and rubbing for about 20 minutes. The he'e is ready when you throw it down and it just flops on the rock - not contracting and there is no more slime coming out of it. Then rinse the octopus in the sea to remove any remaining slime. Ok, now that you know how they used to tenderize fresh he'e, today it is believed that freezing it actually does pretty much the same thing as all of the steps above, however it is best not to freeze he'e for more than 2 days for the best flavor.

To clean fresh he'e, rinse in cold water. Locate the beak and cut off the tentacles below the beak. Discard the head. Some people skin the he'e, using a very sharp and flexible knife for this, but in Hawaii the thin skin is usually eaten. Finally, rinse in cold water again.

To cook: I like to braise my fresh he'e rather than boil it. When you boil it, much of the flavor is lost in the water, braising he'e in their own juices over low heat concentrates the flavor and renders it dense and delicious, not rubbery. The first step is to defrost the he'e completely in the refrigerator, then add olive oil to a medium/large pot. When braising he'e, it should need no other liquid. All you have to do is put it in the pot over high heat, turning the he'e several times for about 5-8 minutes until the liquid is released from the he'e (the meat in the arms of the he'e contains about 85% water). Then reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover. He'e needs to be braised slowly for about two hours. On occasion, the liquid can totally evaporate as every he'e is different or you simply had the heat on too high. If this occurs, you may add a cup of water at a time. Some locals add a can of beer, or soy sauce, but I like to add a little white wine or sake. After two hours of slow cooking, poke the he'e with a toothpick to make sure it is tender. You should end up with about 2 cups of liquid in the pot. At this point you can follow the recipes below, or grill the he'e by rubbing it with olive oil, a little sea salt, cracked black pepper and some oregano. Place it on a pre-heated grill for a quick sear on all sides, then slice and squeeze lime juice all over it. 

Tako Poke
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Popular He'e Recipes:

Tako Poke
Tako is the Japanese word for octopus. This recipe is very popular in Hawaii, and is one of my favorites.

1 pound tako, braised and finely sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup finely julienned green onions
1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup shoyu, or Tamari sauce
chili sauce, to taste
Hawaiian salt

Braise your octopus as directed in the instructions above. Thinly slice the cooked octopus on the bias. In a small mixing bowl combine tako with remaining ingredients. Season to taste. Chill and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Squid Luau
Hawaiian dish made of octopus (called squid or he'e in Hawaii) and luau leaves cooked in coconut leaves until tender.

2 pounds luau leaves (leaves from the taro plant)
2 cups water
2 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 pounds braised squid or octopus

Braise your octopus as directed in the instructions above. Wash the luau leaves thoroughly. Remove stems and fibrous parts of veins. Place washed leaves in large pot and add water. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for one hour, stirring frequently. Cut braised octopus (squid) into thin slices on the bias. Drain luau thoroughly then stir in coconut milk, salt and squid. Heat but do not boil. Serves 6 people.

Octopus Adobo
A very common Filipino dish. Traditionally served cooked with the ink sack still intact.

1 pound baby octopus, cleaned
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup cane vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
garnish: chopped green onion

In a mixing bowl; combine garlic, vinegar, water, soy sauce, sugar, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Marinate octopus 1 hour or overnight. In a skillet over medium high heat; saute onions in oil. Add squid/octopus with liquid. Continue to cook over medium high heat until no juices remain, about 10-15 minutes. Do not overcook. Garnish with green onion. Makes 3-4 servings.

Portuguese Octopus Rice Stew
1- 3 pound braised octopus
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
a pinch of crushed and dried chili pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups short grain rice
4 cups cooking broth (save the water where you boiled the octopus)
1/4 cup finelly chopped cilantro

Braise your octopus as directed in the instructions above. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a separate pot. Add the chopped onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley and chili peppers. Cook until the onions are translucent. When the octopus is nearly tender place it in a plate reserving the cooking water. Cut the tentacles in bite size pieces and transfer to the onions. Add the rice and stir until all is combined. Mix in the tomato paste. Pour in about 4 and half cups of cooking broth. If you don’t have enough broth, add some water to make up the difference. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the rice for 12 to 15 minutes until the rice is tender. Mix in the cilantro and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Spanish Octopus Tapas
2 pounds braised octopus
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 chopped garlic cloves
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 lemons

Braise your octopus as directed in the instructions above. Meanwhile, put the salt, pepper, paprika and garlic in a mortar and pound it until it is a paste. Slowly add the olive oil, stirring and mashing all the while. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you could use a food processor, but the texture will be different. When the octopus is tender and still warm, cut into chunks, put into a large bowl and toss with the sauce. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into the bowl and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature with slices of lemon. Makes 4-6 servings.

Octopus Salad with Arugula
1 pound braised, cooled octopus
1 small red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon drained capers
2 tablespoons sliced pitted calamata olives
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, coarsely chopped
1 bunch arugula, rinsed and dried

Braise your octopus as directed in the instructions above. Slice the cooled octopus into thin pieces and put them in a bowl. Add the onion, celery, capers and olives and mix. Mix the oil, vinegar and salt and pepper together. Pour over the octopus mixture and toss lightly. Allow to marinate at room temperature at least an hour. Just before serving, fold in the parsley and check seasoning. Serve on a bed of arugula. Makes 4 servings.

Veracruz Shrimp and Octopus Cocktail
3/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Tobasco sauce, or to taste
1 pound braised octopus, cut into small slices
1 pound small shrimp, peeled and boiled for 3 minutes until pink
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 large white onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ripe avocado
1 lime cut into 8 wedges for garnish
corn tortilla chips

Braise your octopus as directed in the instructions above. Combine ketchup and hot sauce in a small bowl and set aside. Combine shrimp, octopus, cilantro, lime juice, onions, garlic, and three-fourths of the ketchup mixture in a large bowl, mix well. Season to taste with salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, pit, peel, and slice the avocado. Spoon cocktail into small bowls or martini glasses and top each with avocado slices and a spoonful of remaining ketchup mixture. Garnish with lime wedges. Serve with corn tortilla chips on the side. Makes 8 servings.

Aloha He'e Ceviche
1 pound braised octopus, chopped
1 cup green onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh corn
1 mango, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup passion fruit juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Hawaiian hot chili water or Tabasco sauce or to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil

Braise your octopus as directed in the instructions above. Cut braised he'e tentacles into pieces. Mix the green onion, garlic, chopped red and green peppers, corn, fruit, and juices. Add salt, pepper, Tabasco, and olive oil to taste, then add the octopus. Let stand in refrigerator to cool for 1 hour before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Mediterranean Octopus Stew
1-2 pound octopus, braised and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
6 medium sized onions (chopped)
6 tomatoes (peeled and chopped)
2 stalks of celery, chopped
6 large potatoes (cut in thick slices)
8 cloves of garlic (crushed)
8 olives (pitted and chopped)
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
a few sprigs fresh mint
a pinch of dried thyme
¼ bottle red wine

Braise your octopus as directed in the instructions above, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Saute the onions in olive oil. When they soften, add the tomatoes, celery and garlic. As soon as the tomatoes start to soften, mix in all herbs, olives and capers. Add octopus pieces to the pan. Increase the temperature to boiling and add the potatoes and red wine, lower the heat and simmer slowly until the liquid reduces considerably. Serve with hot crusty bread. Makes 4-6 servings.

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