Why are people so freaked out by baby octopus photos? I have a few posts on Instagram and people go berzerk with their barfing emojis and stupid ass comments. A few of my favorites are, “eew you can see the tentacles” – which I thought would have been a good thing, or the classic vegan input, “omg how can you kill the babies!?”. Well, Barbara, luckily I bought them pre-killed this time.
I’m lucky to have a fresh seafood market nearby that sells baby octopus. Obviously if your fishery doesn’t sell these, or even regular octopus, any type of squid or the likes would be comparable. All I do to prep these babies is to cut off their heads (and once again in half), then remove their tiny beaks. The tentacle portion will tightly curl up once heated, so I leave them intact.
I just love these little guys because they’re so full of flavor. The best description of baby octopus’ flavors is: meaty/salty/briny bursts of the ocean. Essentially the true definition of “chicken of the sea”. Look at how quickly the tentacles start curling up at the slight touch of heat.
Cooking on medium heat with a slight drizzle of oil, the octopus will turn a bright purple color and release a shit ton of purple liquid. That’s where the goods are at. Remove the octopus pieces and saute some sliced garlic in the juice.
Separately, you should be checking if your pasta is ready. Once al dente, take a coffee mug (or about 2 cups) worth of pasta cooking-liquid out and leave to the side before draining pasta.
On low heat, pour in just a few spoons of flour into the octopus juice until it clumps up like the left photo. The roux is going to form from the slight amount of oil, but mostly from the secreted octopus juice. Then, slowly pour the saved pasta water while stirring vigorously on low heat. I’m serious. The sauce is already salty and flavorful enough that you can skimp here and use legit just water. Obviously, season to taste (though not much salt will be needed).
Once saucy enough, throw in the pasta shells and mix thoroughly. Try to wait until the end to add the octopus to avoid over-cooking or breaking apart.
Serve with an excessive amount of octopus piece on top to freak out all your Instagram followers. Say you killed each baby octopus yourself with your bare hands. It’ll be worth it, trust me.
I also made a similar dish, but with only just sauteed baby octopus here: Recipe – squid pasta and grilled baby octopus, if you’d like to try a pasta-less version of this dish.
- About 1 lb or so of baby octopus, cut (instructions below)
- 1 lb medium shell pasta
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 3 tablespoons or so of flour
- 2 cups of saved pasta water while cooking pasta
- Salt, pepper, to taste
- Garlic powder, onion powder, to taste
- Cook 1 lb of shell pasta in boiling water and stir every few minutes so it doesn’t stick together. Continue next steps, but just remember once the pasta is al dente, remove about 2 cups of pasta-water and set aside while draining pasta.
- Clean baby octopus if needed. Most likely you won’t need to, as I didn’t either, but I have to say it because sometimes people follow instructions blindly. Main goal is to NOT wash off the outer flavor, but also not eat dirt.
- First slice each octopus head off along the line where the head meets the tentacles. It will feel like a hard cartilage piece (called the beak), so cut it off completely and discard. Cut the head in half, but leave tentacles whole.
- In a large pot, drizzle a little bit of oil on medium-high heat until sizzling. Add the octopus pieces and stir every few minutes to not burn anything. About 10 minutes later the octopus should start turning a bright purple color and had secreted enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan. Remove octopus pieces and set to the side; keep the liquid in the pot.
- Add sliced garlic to the hot octopus liquid and saute about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to not burn garlic.
- Depending how much liquid is left, you will need to add slightly less than that amount in flour. If liquid covers the entire bottom of a 12-inch pot like mine, then start with 2 tablespoons of flour and mix until a slight ball forms. Continue to mix until no traces of flour remain.
- Slowly, as in 1/4 of a cup at a time, add in the saved pasta-water. Stirring frequently, make sure all of the roux is dissolved. Do this until a firm sauce forms, probably using all of the reserved 2 cups.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the flavors are flat, add garlic powder and onion powder to taste. Try to retain the salty sea flavor from the octopus juices, but just by enhancing with your usual spices.
- Add drained pasta until sauce is covered thoroughly. Only before serving add the octopus pieces so they don’t over-cook. Try to serve immediately.
Makes about 8 servings.