Sous Vide Octopus, Chorizo, Fingerling Potatoes, Green Almonds & Salsa Verde Recipe
Until recently I didn’t come across octopus too often outside of Asian cuisine, and particularly Korean. I had it almost every day in Korea, but in Vancouver or North America it isn’t as embraced.
Octopi are really smart creatures with 4 pairs of arms often referred to as tentacles, but they’re actually arms which are shorter than tentacles. Tentacles have suction cups at the tips only and they’re a characteristic found on squid. On that note, if you’ve never tried octopus it tastes very much like squid. The first time you try it, it can really make or break the experience and it is very sensitive to being cooked poorly. So if you didn’t like it the first time, try it the second time, and if you didn’t like it either times, try it sous vide… this way!
The following is a guest post, recipe and photos by Brenda (@mightyvanilla)
“The sous vide technique is perfect for octopus. It not only allows us to infuse the flesh with other flavours, it also cooks it so gently that it becomes very tender. And the flavors – the fish, the spicy chorizo sausage, the salsa verde, lemons, and capers – close your eyes and you’re on the coast of the Mediterranean.” – quote from Under Pressure by Thomas Keller
Octopus has a distinctive and mild seafood flavour but the texture can be overly chewy if not prepared correctly. I was planning a mid-week dinner party and looking for a new recipe to try. I also wanted something that could mostly be made ahead and didn’t require a lot of last minute preparation. Sous vide is an ideal technique for this and I had never tried cooking octopus at home before so I was drawn to to this particular recipe from Under Pressure by Thomas Keller.
Like the French Laundry, the recipes in Under Pressure have not been adapted for home use. This makes them excellent books for learning from but also challenging from a sourcing and scaling perspective. The recipe called for a 1.15kg Japanese or Mediterranean octopus and makes 20 servings, but these are fine dining tasting menu servings so I figured that the entire recipe would make at least 6 normal appetizer sized servings.
The real challenge ended up being trying to find the right sized octopus. I quickly realized that Western seafood stores don’t usually carry small fresh octopus because it’s not a popular ingredient. I randomly found enormous fresh tentacles, frozen heads, or no octopus at all. Fortunately I live in Vancouver and the city has many Asian markets. The Japanese specialty store Fujiya yielded large sashimi grade octopus tentacles that have been blanched and flash frozen. They were larger than what would have been on a 1.15 kg octopus but they were the closest thing I had found yet. I also found frozen baby octopus at a Chinese T&T and decided to try them as well. The combined weight of the large tentacles and baby octopus was just under 1.15kg, close enough! I figured it would be educational to see how the two types compared, and if one didn’t work then hopefully the other one would. (Several days after the dish had already been prepared and eaten, I happened to see frozen tentacles of the right size at H-Mart. Oh well, good to know for next time.)
Frozen baby octopus and sashimi grade tentacles
The other sourcing challenge was the green almonds that are used in the garnish. Green almonds are the young unshelled version of what eventually will become almond nuts. They are only available for a short time in the spring when almond trees are just starting to produce their fruit. If the green almonds are very young, the whole fruit is edible. They taste of tart stone fruits, like green plums but with a bit of sweet almond flavor. As they mature, the shell of the nut should be removed. The almond nut itself will change in texture from soft and jellylike to a firm almond. The ones I bought from Mikuni Wild Harvest were at the tail end of the green almond season and the outer fruit part of the nut was still edible but firm and crunchy. The seed was medium firm with some resistance to the bite but no crunch yet. The seeds will start to discolour and brown once they’re exposed to air so they should be peeled closer to serving time and placed in a bath of slightly acidic water.
Green almonds from Mikuni Wild Harvest
With the sourcing done, the cooking part was fairly straightforward. The sashimi grade tentacles didn’t require any special preparation, and the baby octopus had already been cleaned prior to being frozen so they just needed to be thawed, rinsed and drained. (A cleaned octopus will have no innards in the head and the hard beak will also have been removed.)
The octopus was tossed with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and then sous vide with a herb sachet for five hours at 77C (170.6F). Since I was using large tentacles and baby octopus, I sous vide them in separate bags. A surprisingly large amount of liquid came out of the octopus by they time they had finished cooking, about a cup per bag. The recipe didn’t mention this so I’m not sure if the same thing would have happened if I had used a small fresh octopus but the liquid had a lot of flavour so I strained it off and froze it as a seafood stock.
Once the octopus had cooled enough to handle, I used the back of a knife to scrape away the top membranes from the tentacles. The large tentacles had a thin dark ‘skin’ and a thick membrane so once the skin was removed, it was easier to peel away the membrane and suckers by hand. Only the cleaned tentacles were used in the recipe but I found that the suckers were also tender enough to eat. (If the tentacles had actually been used as sashimi, the entire portion would have been sliced and eaten, suckers and all.) The tentacles got stickier as they cooled, so I peeled them as quickly as possible. The baby octopus only had a thin layer of dark skin and they peeled extremely easily. They were so delicate that I had to be careful not to pull their tentacles off the body.
The cooking of the fingerling potatoes was simple and straightforward: simmer in water with garlic and lots of herbs. They ended up being one of my favourite components from the dish. The texture of the potatoes was soft and creamy and I could taste the flavour of fresh herbs. I will definitely be using this technique again.
Making the salsa verde consisted of blanching each type of herb separately for a few minutes, chilling them in ice water, wringing them dry, and then blending them on high speed with olive oil. Even though I used a VitaMix blender, I found that the herb mixture was difficult to pass through a strainer so I decided to leave it unstrained. (Adding more olive oil and blending for longer probably would have fixed this but I didn’t want to risk making it too runny.) A small amount of ground cumin and ground coriander was added, and some lemon juice and capers were mixed in just before serving. The flavour of the salsa verde was bright and intensely herby; only a small amount was needed on each plate.
Just before serving, the octopus is supposed to be heated on a grill pan to add grill marks, and then sliced into thin pieces. I sliced the tentacles but left baby octopus whole. Since the octopus had already been cooked, I think the grill pan was purely a cosmetic step but I liked how it added some colour. Interestingly, the recipe does not say say what temp to serve the dish at. Since only the octopus called for being grilled and there were no instructions to reheat the potatoes, I guessed that it was most likely a cold or room temperature salad. The recipe included sliced chorizo as one of the garnishes so I decided to pan sear them along with the octopus.
Since most of the components were made ahead of time, the final plating came together very quickly. It started with a thin schmear of salsa verde, then the fingerling potatoes, octopus and chorizo were added. The green almonds were plated last along with a scattering of small cilantro leaves.
I loved the look of this dish with the dark red chorizo against the green salsa verde, white potatoes and octopus tentacles. The baby octopus made for a really cute garnish. The octopus tentacles were tender with a bit of chew while the baby octopus were completely soft and tender. The fresh salsa verde, cilantro and green almonds paired well with the spicy chorizo while the octopus was strong enough in flavour to stand out on its own. Even though there were sourcing challenges, I got to learn about new ingredients and picked up a few techniques along the way.
Sous Vide Octopus, Chorizo, Fingerling Potatoes, Green Almonds & Salsa Verde Recipe
– Adapted from Under Pressure by Thomas Keller
Makes 6-8 appetizer servings
1 whole octopus, approximately 1.15 kg, preferably Japanese or Mediterranean
-or- approximately 1kg of smaller octopus tentacles (1” or less in diameter)
-or- approximately 1kg of baby octopus
- Kosher salt
- 20g extra virgin olive oil plus more for grilling
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 thyme sprig
- 1 small rosemary spring
- 2 bay leaves
- 1g coriander seeds
- 1g cumin seeds
- 1 dried red chile
- 20 medium fingerling potatoes
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- 6 thyme sprigs
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 bay leaves
- Kosher salt to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 50g basil leaves
- 15g tarragon leaves
- 40g cilantro leaves
- 45g flat leaf parsley leaves
- About 145g extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 0.2g coriander seeds or ¼ tsp ground coriander
- 0.2g cumin seeds or ¼ tsp ground cumin
- Lemon juice
- Minced capers
- 25g chorizo, cut into ¼ inch slices
- 24 green almonds or Marcona almonds
- Cilantro shoots or leaves, or microgreens
Notes for success
- The octopus and potatoes can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator until just before serving.
- The original recipe in the book only calls for using the tentacles from a whole octopus. If I had managed to find one, I would have sous vide the head as well to see how it turned out.
- A large amount of liquid may released by the octopus as it cooks. The liquid has a lot of flavour and can be frozen and used later as a seafood stock.
- Remove the membranes from the octopus as soon as they have cooled enough to handle. They will become stickier as they cool.
- The fingerling potatoes are time consuming to peel so this step can be omitted if the potatoes are scrubbed very well before cooking.
- The cookbook recommends that the salsa verde be made the day of serving so the colour is at its brightest but I found that it stayed quite green for up to a week. Exposed parts will start to brown and oxidize after a few days.
- The salsa verde recipe makes much more than needed but the leftovers can be used as part of a fresh salad dressing, incorporated into a marinade for chicken or seafood, or simply used as a pasta sauce along with some grated cheese.
- Due to the small amount of salsa verde that is made, a small food processor may work better than a blender.
- Toasting whole seeds before grinding brings out their flavour.
- 0.2g of coriander seeds and 0.2g of cumin seeds is too small of an amount to grind in a small household spice grinder. You can use pre-ground spices or grind a larger amount of the whole spices and measure out what you need.
- Green almonds are difficult to source and are only available briefly during the late spring/early summer from specialty sources. Marcona almonds or high quality regular almonds can be used instead.
- If using green almonds, they are best peeled shortly before using. The cookbook recommends making a mild acidulated water with citric acid but I used lemon juice and water instead. The almonds still browned slightly, but this gave them an interesting look.
- If you do not have a grill pan, use a heavy stainless steel or cast iron pan instead.
For the octopus:
If using a whole octopus: Put the octopus on a cutting board. You will feel a ball just above the eyes; cut off the head just below the ball. Put the tentacles in a bowl and cover liberally with salt. Using a stiff brush, scrub the tentacles to remove any slime. Rinse and drain.Spread out the octopus, sucker side down, and cut off the 8 complete tentacles. Cut away the webbed skin that hangs from the sides of the tentacles and discard. Trim the tentacles, rinse them in cold water, and drain thoroughly.
If using tentacles: Follow the tentacle steps as per the previous instruction.
If using baby octopus: Rinse them well in cold water and drain thoroughly.
Whisk together the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Toss in the octopus, and chill.
Make the herb sachet by placing thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, coriander, cumin and chiles on a small sheet of plastic wrap. Roll up the sachet, and cut off the ends of the roll so that the herbs are just covered.
Vacuum sealed tentacles
6. Place the octopus in a bag in a single layer and add the sachet. Vacuum-pack (VacMaster VP112) on medium.
Vacuum sealed baby octopus
Sous vide (SousVide Supreme) at 77C (170.6F) for 5 hours. There may be a lot of liquid that is released during cooking. Let the octopus cool in the bag just enough so you can handle them, then drain them well. (The liquid is full of flavour and can be saved for another use.)
Cleaning the sous vide tentacles
To trim the tentacles, put each tentacle down on a work surface and, with a paring knife, scrape away the top flesh. Then work the knife in both directions, using the top if the knife to peel and scrape away the membranes, including the suckers. If the suckers are difficult to remove, use your hands. You will be left with very clean, smooth pieces of octopus.
If using baby octopus, gently rub the membrane away; it will come off very easily. The octopus will be very tender and delicate so be careful not to pull the tentacles or suckers off.
Refrigerate the cleaned octopus in a covered container until ready to use.
For the potatoes:
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan. Add the rosemary, thyme, garlic and bay leaves. Cover with cold water by about 1 inch and season with salt (about 2 tsp).
Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 25 minutes, or until tender.
Drain the potatoes and scrape away the skin with a paring knife or with your hands. Cut into quarters and toss with a light coating of olive oil.
Set the potatoes aside until just before serving.
For the salsa verde:
The salsa verde should be made the day it is served.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (190g of salt per 4L of water).
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
Blanch the herbs, one type at a time, each for about 3 minutes. Drain each herb and submerge in the ice bath to chill. Once they are cold, wring out the herbs in a kitchen towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
Transfer the herbs to a (VitaMix) blender or a small food processor and add enough of the olive oil to puree the leaves to a sauce consistency.
(Optional) Strain through a chinois or fine-mesh conical strainer into a metal bowl placed over an ice bath. Whisk in enough additional oil (if needed) to make a smooth, slightly thickened sauce. Leave over the ice bath to help preserve the vivid colour.
If using whole coriander seeds and whole cumin seeds, gently toast them in a small pan over medium heat for several minutes until fragrant. Grind them to a fine powder in a small spice grinder.
Season to taste with salt. Add the cumin and coriander. Just before serving, add a few drops of lemon juice and capers to taste to the salsa.
For the green almonds:
Peel the almonds shortly before serving.
Prepare a small bowl of cold water with a few drops of lemon juice.
Run a paring knife around the seam of the almond’s shell, then insert the tip of the knife into the seam and twist the knife to pop open the shell; be careful not to pierce the almond.
Remove the almonds from the shells and place them in the lemon water to keep them from discolouring.
Heat a cast iron grill pan over high heat.
Toss the octopus with olive oil to coat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add to the grill pan and cook, turning once to mark both sides of the pieces, about 2 minutes total.
Remove from the grill pan and cut the tentacles into ⅛ inch slices. Set aside. (If using baby octopus, leave them whole.)
Add the chorizo slices to the pan and cook, turning once to mark both sides of the pieces, about 2 minutes total.
Spread the salsa verde onto the serving plates.
Arrange the octopus, potatoes, and chorizo. Garnish with green almonds and cilantro leaves.
To see Octopus 5 Ways Japanese style see here.