When my Japanese grandfather came to California, he was glad to go to his first Taco Bell. But he was puzzled to unwrap a strange yellow thing filled with lettuce, cheese and meat. He insisted he ordered tako. We laughed when we realized that he thought he ordered octopus which is called tako in Japanese.
In Japan, both mature and baby tako are enjoyed both cooked and raw. As inhumane as it might sound, live octopus often is sliced and eaten with tentacles still writhing around chopsticks. Sometimes, there are choking deaths when suction cups adhere to the back of dinersí throats!
Of the 300 octopus species, all are venomous but only one toxic to humans. Octopi are considered to be the most intelligent of all invertebrates, and research has shown they have both long and short-term memory, can distinguish between shapes and patterns, use tools, and have a highly developed central nervous system. In fact, in the UK, laws protect octopi from being treated inhumanely during experiments and banned surgery on them without anesthesia. It isnít like me to intervene with cultural practices, but knowing this about octopi, I encourage you to eat octopi which are dead and have been humanely killed.
If you like squid or calamari then you will probably like the taste of octopus, if it is cooked properly. The flesh of the cephalopod is chewy, but there are ways to tenderize it.
The first method is to freeze it. Freezing anything with liquid-filled cells (plant or animal) causes the cells to expand and break the cell walls. Upon thawing, the cells lose rigidity. To illustrate, freeze fresh celery and defrost it. The second method of tenderizing raw octopus is to pound it thoroughly with a heavy mallet. You will not bruise the flesh but break down some of the tough tissue. Boiling the octopus is the third way to tenderize it. It takes between 30 minutes to an hour and a half of simmering to soften the octopus depending on the size of the octopus.
But the real key to enjoying tako is to slice it thinly which will reduce its chewiness. Slice it thin to top some nigiri sushi rice or dice it to add to takoyaki or tako salad. It is delicious and so beloved in Japan that it is one of the countryís most popular pizza topping.
The first recipe is the traditional Japanese way to cook tako, followed by the recipe for the miso dipping sauce. The next recipe is my mother's delicious method of cooking tako. She said that the measurements need to be equal parts sake and sugar. How much to use depends on the size of the octopus. And no need to add liquid as the octopus will release some juices as it cooks.
How to Cook Tako (Octopus) Japanese style
1 medium sized fresh (raw) octopus
2 cups cooking sake
1 1/2 quarts water (or more to cover)
Wash the octopus thoroughly under running water. Turn the octopus inside out. Discard the entrails. Using a sharp kitchen knife or shears, clip off the bony beak. Rinse the octopus and turn it right side out. (You can wrap this in a large plastic zip-type bag and freeze it overnight and then defrost before proceeding or just continue with this recipe.)
Pour the cooking sake into a large pot. Add the whole octopus and add enough water to cover. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with a lid and lower the heat to a simmer. Let the octopus cook for 30 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the size. It will release some liquid as it cooks so you should not need to add additional water if you keep the lid on. The octopus will still be somewhat chewy so donít boil it too much, expecting it to become soft or fall apart. Do not cook longer than 90 minutes.
Remove from the pot and allow it to cool. Slice the octopus thinly. Use in your favorite tako recipe or serve with citrusy miso dipping sauce.
Miso Dipping Sauce for Tako
Ĺ cup shiro miso (white)
1-1/2 Tbsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Blend all ingredients together and serve with sliced, cooked tako.
4 cups sake
4 cups sugar
1 medium sized octopus, cleaned and gutted
Place all ingredients in a large stewing pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, lower heat and simmer until octopus is tender. This will take several hours. Note: Octopus will still have a chewy texture! Cool and slice thinly. Keep chilled.
You do not need to add more liquid as the octopus will release liquid as it cooks.