Nov 23, 2017

How To Cook Hawaiian Octopus

In Hawaii, and particularly here on the island of 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.

I just purchased five fresh Hawaiian he'e mauli from a local fisherman here on Moloka'i. I paid $5.00 a pound and bought a 7 pound bag, which was frozen by the fisherman three days before I bought it. Some say that freezing fresh octopus is a good thing in that it actually helps to tenderize it, but others say that freezing it will worsen the fibrousness and reduce the fresh taste. Yesterday I heard from the owner of The Sundown Deli here on Moloka'i that her "tutu kane" (grandfather) would run his "he'e"(octopus) thru an old agitator washing machine to tenderize it. She added that his washing machine was only used for his octopus.

If you bought your octopus frozen as I did, the first step after thawing it is to cut the heads off from the legs. You want to cut it just below the head, then remove the beak, or teeth from the middle of the octopus, leaving the legs connected if possible. Many people clean and eat the head by cutting it in half and remove all of its innards. Personally I prefer to just eat the legs, but you be the judge of that.

Once you have removed and discarded the head, rinse the legs in water, then dump the water and rub the legs generously, and aggressively, with sea salt for a few minutes. This will help to remove the slippery stuff before cooking it. Rinse the octopus in cold water a couple of times. If it’s still slippery, rub with salt and scrub again until it’s not. This process will not only clean the suckers but also help tenderize it more. Rinse the octopus in cold water, removing the salt.

Octopus flesh can be tough because it is reinforced with connective-tissue similar to red meat. One of the best ways to cook octopus, if you have the time, is to blanch them for 30 seconds in boiling water, then braise them in the oven in a covered dry pot at 200 degrees for four or five hours. Octopus flesh is made up of 80% water which releases in the covered pot and actually slowly braises the octopus.

Another way to cook octopus is simmer it in water with a little salt for about 60 to 75 minutes to dissolve the tough, contracted collagen into gelatin and give the flesh a silken succulence. (check for doneness with the point of a sharp knife.

Boiled Hawaiian Octopus
Click on photo to view larger

I like to add bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, garlic, salt, and 1 lemon cut in half to a large pot of water, then cover and bring it to a simmer. The amount of salt added depends on how many pounds you are cooking. Add the octopus tentacles pressing them down with a spoon to completely submerge it. After a few minutes in the simmering water, the tentacles and water will have changed color to red (see photo above), and the octopus contracts into a fist shape. At this point, turn it over every few minutes to cook it evenly. Continue simmering for about 60 to 75 minutes. Do not overcook the octopus, otherwise it will be tough.

Take the octopus out of the simmering water when ready. Quickly rinse it in cold water to stop it from cooking. Split each tentacle from its cluster. At this point you can cover the legs with olive oil, and a little salt and pepper, and charbroil the legs over high heat for flavor. Grill it quickly until the outside browns but the inside is not dried out. Then serve the tentacles whole or cut them into thin slices and serve on a platter with lemon or lime wedges, or your favorite dipping sauce.

Note: One of my favorite Italian cooks is Lidia. She has a great recipe for "Simply Braised Octopus".
Click here for her recipe.

Spicy Hawaiian Tako Cucumber Poke
Click on photo to view larger

Spicy Hawaiian Tako Cucumber Poke
Sliced octopus is great in a classic poke base of sweet onions, scallions, soy sauce, and sesame oil, but my favorite way is to marinate the cooked, thinly sliced octopus, in a little kimchi base sauce.

Kimchi Base Sauce Ingredients:
15-ounce can tomato sauce
3 tablespoons of Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons of peeled and minced ginger
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of fresh lime or lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons of sugar
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
3 tablespoons of Sriracha sauce, or to taste

In a blender, combine tomato sauce, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, vinegar, lime, salt, sugar, onions, and Sriracha sauce. Blend until smooth. Taste the sauce and add more Sriracha sauce if you like it spicier. Cover and store in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups of base sauce.

Hawaiian Tako Cucumber Poke
One pound cooked octopus will easily make 4 servings as a first course. When ready to marinate your cooked and thinly sliced octopus poke, mix in as much of the kimchi base sauce as needed to just cover. Let marinate at least an hour, covered, in the refrigerator before serving.

Note: I like to add Japanese cucumber slices to my tako poke with a sprinkle of seasoned rice vinegar. Simply slice cucumber in half lengthwise and then thinly slice. Garnish with sliced green onion and toasted sesame seeds. Soooo Ono!!!

Nov 16, 2017

Pickled Green Opo

Tasty bites of locally grown opo squash, pickled with red bell pepper and spices.
Click on photos to view larger.

Pickled Green Opo Squash
Click on photos to view larger
One of the most popular recipes on is Opo squash soup. It's almost always on the top 10 list on the left side of this blog. Long green squash is very popular with the Asian community here on Moloka'i for soups and stir-fries, and is available both in our grocery stores and at our farmers market.

Originally the Chinese and Filipino plantation workers introduced this now popular vegetable to the Hawaiian population. 

Opo squash has a mild flavor similar to zucchini and is fat free, saturated fat free, cholesterol free, sodium free, and a good source of vitamin C.

I was making Opo soup for my wife and I when I realized that I had half a squash left over. That's when I came up with the idea of slicing the squash up into 1/4 inch, bite-sized pieces and made pickles out of it. They are delicious! For more information about this popular vegetable, 
click here.

Here's my recipe for:

Pickled Green Opo Squash
2- 1 quart canning jars with lids
1/2 large Opo squash, peeled, inside pith and seeds removed, sliced into 1/4 inch bite-sized pieces
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoons sea salt, divided
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and skin removed and thinly sliced.
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, divided
2 teaspoons dried dill, divided
2 teaspoons pickling spice, divided
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar for each jar
4 tablespoons of Patis, Filipino fish sauce, divided (see "Note" below)
6 cups of boiling water

Opo – Long Green Squash
Put your jars and lids in a large pot and cover with hot water. Put the lid on the pot and boil the water on high heat. allow to boil for 10 minutes, and then turn the heat off. This will sterilize the jars.

Next wash and peel the squash with a potato peeler. With a big sharp knife, cut the squash lengthwise and remove all of the white pith and seeds (save the other half to make soup out of or add it the your stir fry). Cut the half squash lengthwise into 4 pieces, then slice each into 1/4 inch pieces.

Take two ramekins or 2 coffee cups and divide your sliced garlic and put it into each cup. now add the rest of the spices to each cup. Put the divided spices into the bottom of each sterilized jar.  now fill the two jars with a mixture of squash pieces and red bell pepper, gently pressing them into the jars to get as many into each jar as you can, but leave about 1/2 inch of room at the top of each jar. Put the jars into your kitchen sink and put the vinegar into each jar, plus the fish sauce.

Now carefully pour the hot water into each jar, leaving 1/4 inch of air space. Immediately seal the jars with the hot lids, and close them very tightly with a hand towel. Leave the jars on your kitchen counter at room temperature for about 24 hours. If you like crisp pickles, you can eat them the next day. After 24 hours, refrigerate the pickled opo for one week before eating. Makes 2 quarts.

Note: I've been cooking for a long time and have come to love Asian fish sauce as a complex flavor additive to enhance many different recipes, not just Asian recipes, so I always have a bottle in my refrigerator. My favorite is a Vietnamese fish sauce called Red Boat 40˚ N, which does not contain added water, preservatives or MSG. It has a light amber color, not fishy tasting or too salty. For more information about this amazing sauce, plus great recipes, check out their website. This sauce is also available on but unfortunately not available on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i. However Filipino brands of fish sauce (Patis) are available here, just check the label for MSG. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that's "generally recognized as safe," but its use remains controversial.

For more canning recipes, check out the "Recipe Index" tab above, under "Condiments".

Nov 10, 2017

Striped Hawaiian Mullet

Striped Hawaiian mullet,‘Ama‘ama, were one of the most important fish species in traditional Hawaiian culture. Young fish were caught in nets along the shoreline, then raised in the many fishponds throughout the islands. After being fattened in the fishponds, they were harvested and eaten raw with seaweed added, or wrapped in ti or ginger leaves and broiled or baked.

There are three species of mullet in Hawaiian waters but the striped Hawaiian mullet is the largest, reaching 18 inches in length and weighing about 3 pounds. After December 1st the striped mullet starts its spawning season which puts them off-limits until April 1st. The annual winter closure is designed to help the fish reproduce successfully and protect the species from overfishing.

Mullet has a relatively high oil content that keeps the meat moist in a variety of preparation methods. Steam or bake whole fish or sear fillets, skin-side down, in a pan. Moi can also be grilled, broiled or pan fried and served raw as sashimi. The oil in the flesh makes smoking an option as well.
I was fortunate enough to be gifted a large striped Hawaiian mullet by a friend who loves to fish in the waters around Moloka'i. He told me that he and his wife like to cook this delicious fish very simply in a soup seasoned with just lemon juice and soy sauce. I took this concept and developed my own recipe for Moloka'i Mullet Stew, which follows:

Striped Hawaiian Mullet
Click on photo to view larger.

Moloka'i Mullet Stew
Click on photo to view larger

Moloka'i Mullet Stew
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus 2 teaspoon sesame oil
3 inches fresh ginger, sliced into thin strips
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large mullet filleted and cut into 4 pieces (remove the skin), saving the bones for the broth
4 tablespoons soy sauce, plus 4 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or chili oil
4 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, cleaned and stems removed
6 cups water
2 lemons or limes, juiced, or to taste
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Heat the canola oil and sesame oil in a deep pot.

Saute the ginger, onions, and garlic for 2 minute.

Pour-in water and bring to a boil.

Add fish bones and simmer for 1/2 hour, then remove the bones and strain the broth to remove any stray bones. Add the fish fillets, soy sauce and fish sauce, potatoes, and lemon juice to the stock. Let the liquid re-boil and then simmer for 8 minutes, then taste the broth for additional seasoning if needed.

Put the fresh spinach leaves in 4 soup bowls. Gently place the fish and potatoes on top of the spinach, breaking the fish into 2 pieces. Now pour the hot broth over everything and garnish with sesame seeds, serve.

Makes 4 servings.