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
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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
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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

Procedure:
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!!!

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