Yes, not having cooked octopus for a VERY long time, thats the kind of relief I felt yesterday when the Galician specimens emerged from the simmering pot tender and gelatinous. The last time I encountered octopus was somewhere in childhood, although I remember the largest part of the battle was spent trying to pry the the large sucker (no pun) off my frantic brother’s arm. It was as tough as, well, it was inedible. Everyone agreed that no, this is what it was supposed to taste like, and it’s not quite their bag.
After trawling through loads of information on the topic of cooking the damn animals, I settled on what I had seen being done before – freezing the cephalopod for a day or two, slowly defrosting it and then simmering (not EVER boiling) it until the ‘skirt’ (the little tutu bit where the head meets the tentacles) yields to a small knife. And yes, you can overcook them, and then you will feel with a knife that the end product will be tough. What you do then, is you dry it out and make a nice avant-garde handbag with it, as thats all it will be good for.
Why do cephalopods react to heat like this? Well, you know how other meats (beef, chicken lamb etc.) have a strand-like muscle texture where the proteins contract to shorter strands as they are exposed to heat? Cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish, snails even) have a muscular texture that looks like that silver wiry stuff one scrubs pots with. When exposed to heat, the little ‘wiry’ strands contract tightly, making chewing bloody impossible. The only way to counteract this is by super quick cooking, or prolonged heat, which totally relaxes the strands. Or you can spend some quality time beating the poor thing against your sink 18 times, or cooking it super long with some corks, or giving it a good spin your tumble-dryer, or any of those other Greek granny tales. If they work for you, please let me know!
I’m happy with my result. We now serve it really thinly sliced with lemon, new season olive oil and paprika, and I can feel some more menu-ideas coming on. Beautiful. Super cool.