Octopus salad is a common starter served at Italian restaurants, especially during summer. Fresh octopus’ meat is very similar to squid in taste and texture, although it has a firmer chunky consistency. The raw octopus is first boiled, then seasoned with garlic, parsley, lemon juice, and a good extra virgin olive oil. It can be served by itself or mixed with boiled new potatoes (Insalata di polpo e patate) . It has a delicate seafood flavor, the perfect starter for Mediterranean cuisine, not only Italian but also French, Spanish, and Portuguese (ensalada de pulpo).
When I was a child and the Mediterranean Sea was clean, catching an octopus was a fun daily beach activity for Italian kids.
There was always a brave young child who would catch an octopus while playing on the shore.
The octopus was killed by banging its head against the rocks several times, as this also tenderizes it.
At home, a similarly brave mom would clean all the interior and cook it.
Those days are gone now, and Iam not brave enough to clean an octopus.
So I buy it at thefishmonger and ask them to clean it. So much easier!
This octopus salad is very easy to make and a classic for the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.
Calamari, cuttlefish and octopus are all part of the cephalopods family and you can read the article What are calamari cuttlefish and octopus to find out more
To boil the octopus, you need the following ingredients:
- Fresh or frozen octopuses: I prefer to buy baby octopuses as they do not have gelatinous bits. The size of the octopus should be about 12 in - 30 cm from leg to head. If you can only find large octopus legs, you can remove the gelatinous parts after you boil it
- Onion, a stalk of celery, and carrot
- Peppercorn, bay leaf and salt
- 1 wine cork (optional, maybe!)
For the salad, you need:
- new potatoes
- lemon juice
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- garlic clove
- half a lemon zest
- salt and black pepper
Check the recipe card for exact measurements.
How to tenderize an octopus
Octopuses have a rubbery texture, especially the large ones.
Not to have a chewy octopus, it has to be tenderized.
Usually, the octopus you buy at the fish monger is already tenderized.
Make sure you ask!
If the octopus is freshly caught and is not tenderized, don't worry.
You don't have to bang its head against the kitchen wall.
Freeze it for a few days, and the meat will be nicely tender.
Once the octopus is cleaned and tenderized, the octopus salad is a straightforward dish to prepare.
Cooking the octopus
- Prepare a large pot of hot water with one onion, one carrot, a stalk of celery, seven peppercorns, a bay leaf, and 1 tablespoon of salt.
- Once the water boils, dip the octopus tentacles into the water a couple of times before placing the entire octopus in the boiling water.
- This will help to curl the tentacles for a better presentation of the serving dish.
- Once you've dipped it a couple of times, submerge it in the pan completely and let it boil for approximately 30 minutes.
- Once the octopus is cooked, let it cool down completely and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Hint: you can also cook the octopus in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes
Fun Facts: add a wine cork
Many Italians add a wine cork to the boiling water as they say it makes the octopus tender.
It seems the legend comes from a time when the octopus was cooked in communal pots, so fishermen will attach the octopus to corks in order to recognize theirs.
None has ever proved whether this works, but I always add it.
You never know!
Prepare the potatoes
- In a separate pan, boil the baby or new potatoes for 20 minutes in salted water.
- Even better if you have a pressure cooker with a steamer, steam the potatoes for 6 to 7 minutes
- Season the potatoes with lemon juice, chopped parsley, garlic, half a lemon zest, salt and pepper.
- Add the octopus and mix
How to serve it
This octopus salad can be served with or without potatoes, warm in the winter and cold in the summer.
It is a great dish to serve as a starter at dinner parties, as you can make it the day before.
Made the day before, it tastes better as the flavors have the time to combine together.
You can serve it straight from the fridge without any last minutes of preparation.
- When you buy the octopus, ask the fishmonger if the octopus is already tenderized
- Choose a small octopus, the large ones may have thick skin, and when cooked, it turns very soft, like gooey gelatine. I tend to remove it
- It is up to you if you want to put a cork in the boiling water, it is probably useless
- It is best to steam the potatoes so that they remain firm
- Prepare the seasoning a few hours earlier so the flavors have time to infuse
- This salad can be served warm or cold, either way, it is very nice
Why do my children love this octopus salad
This is delicious and definitely one of our family’s favorites.
My son Francesco has loved it since he was 2 years old, and he simply called it “the legs”.
While you might think that the look may put children off, I found that if they are used to seeing it on the table while still a toddler, they find eating what is often presented as a monster in their cartoons amusing.
Starting with Ursula in the Disney movie The Marmaid, Stretch from Toy Story, Squidward Tentacles from SpongeBob SquarePants and Davy Jones (the squid man) in Pirates of the Caribbean, children will relate to their favourite characters while eating this octopus salad.
They will either love it or hate it!
Recipes you might also like
If you are looking for more Italian Seafood recipes, you can check the category: Seafood
For seafood ideas for the Feast of Seven Fishes, check out this Web Story.
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📋Italian Octopus Salad Recipe (Insalata Di Polpo)
For the broth to cook the octopus
For the broth to cook the octopus
- Prepare a pot of hot water with 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery, 7 peppercorns and 1 tablespoon of salt.1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery, 10 peppercorns, 1 tablespoon sea coarser salt
- Once the water boils, dip the octopus tentacles into the water a couple of times before placing the entire octopus in the boiling water. This will help to curl the tentacles for a better presentation on the serving dish.1 lb fresh octopus
- Once you dip it a couple of times, submerge it in the pan completely and let it boil for approximately 30 minutes.
- Once the octopus is cooked let it cool down completely and cut it into bite sizes.
For the potato salad
- In a separate pan, boil the baby potatoes for 20 minutes in salted water.7 oz baby potatoes, 1 tablespoon sea coarser salt
- Even better if you have a pressure cooker with the steamer, steam the potatoes for 6 to 7 minutes
- Season the potatoes with lemon juice, chopped parsley, chopped garlic, half lemon zest, salt and pepper.1 Lemon and lemon zest, 2 peeled garlic cloves, ¼ cup fresh parsley, 3 tablespoon olive oil, salt & pepper
- Add the octopus and mix