Marinated octopus – insalata di polpo

This is not a blog post for the squeamish or faint-hearted. It tells of how I conquered a giant 4kg octopus and made him into about 1.5kg of delicious marinated goodness with photographs to tell the story. It started off quite innocently – I agreed to make marinated octopus (called insalata di polpo in Italian) for eleven people for a family celebration. I went to the market looking for baby octopus but could only find the giant ones. Mamma had always made the baby ones and she had told me it was very easy. You just boiled them for about an hour and then marinated them whole. It was as easy as that. So I asked the fishmonger for an octopus to feed a dozen people – I did not bargain for how much I needed.


That is my gloved hand in the photo above, holding the giant creature above the sink trying to rinse it. The first challenge, once I’d lugged the octopus home, was to find a pot big enough to boil it. The recipe I had found called for a 4 kg octopus and a pot that fitted 8 litres of liquid. My largest pot was nowhere near big enough and although it fitted in quite snugly (and I knew it would shrink in size), there was very little room for the water. To make matters worse, the recipe also said that the way to tenderise a giant octopus was to dunk it in and out of boiling water three times in quick succession. The problem with this was that every time I dunked the creature, boiling water would spill out and the safety switch on my electric stovetop would come into effect, turning it all off.


In spite of the difficulties and the time it took, the story has a happy ending. After an hour bubbling away (and frequently boiling over), a smaller, tender and pink octopus emerged, ready to have the skin removed.


The next part was a bit gruesome – on the underside of where the tentacles join, there is a whole lot of jelly-like octopus flesh that is attached to the skin. I removed it quickly (wearing latex gloves) and tried not to look at it too much. Sadly – or maybe luckily for you – I was up to my ears in octopus at that point so was unable to take a photo. But what emerged was just wonderful – tender, juicy and tasty pink and white octopus flesh. I cut it into bite size chunks, marinated it in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and parsley and put it in the fridge. It was very well received by the family at our celebration – my nephew Alex went back for a third serve. I will definitely make this again – though if I needed to make the same quantity I would cut the octopus in half and use two saucepans (or buy two smaller creatures). The recipe below is for a 2kg octopus and will feed 8 people generously as part of an entree.

italy on my mind-octopus salad-insalata di polpo

A reminder to you about my Instagram photo competition. It finishes at the end of the month so you still have time to enter. There are over 170 fantastic entries so far. My mother is going to have a hard time selecting the best home cooked italian dish to win that Guy Grossi cookbook….

Marinated octopus (insalata di polpo)
serves 8 as an entree
2 kg octopus, tentacles only (they are generally sold this way or ask the fishmonger to clean them)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
extra virgin olive oil (at least 1/4 cup)
juice of a small lemon
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, leaves picked and chopped
sea salt to taste

Wash the octopus in a large bowl/tub of water. In the meantime, fill a large pot which has a lid that fits snugly full of water and bring to the boil. Dunk the octopus in and out of the boiling water in quick succession (this is said to tenderise the flesh) and place it in the water after the last dunking. Add the vinegar to the water and bring it back to the boil. Allow it to simmer, covered for about an hour until the flesh is tender when prodded with a fork. Start testing it after 50 minutes of cooking. You want it to be tender but still keep its shape. Remove the pot from the heat -don’t drain the water – and set aside to cool completely. This may take several hours depending on the size of the octopus, the amount of water etc.

Once it has cooled, tip out the water. Prepare a work surface and using a large knife cut off a tentacle at a time, and remove the skin. It should come off very easily. Some recipes suggest to keep part of the skin closest to the tip of the tentacle in place, which I did as the suction cups are edible and that curly part looked rather nice. Now chop into bite sized pieces and place in a ceramic container with a lid. When you get to the part of the octopus where the tentacles join, I also removed the skin and managed to use part of the flesh which was tender (though not the central harder part).

Add the olive oil, lemon juice, chopped garlic and parsley to the bowl of octopus pieces and salt to taste. Quantities vary according to taste of all of these so your best bet is to taste and add more depending on your preferences. Insalata di polpo keeps covered in the fridge for about 5 days. Remove it about 30 minutes before serving and give it a good stir as the marinade may have settled.

italy on my mind-octopus salad-best food blog

7 comments on “Marinated octopus – insalata di polpo

  1. Wow. 4kg octopus! That’s quite a beast. I love reading about new food experiments and adventures and I’ve actually been thinking hard about bringing an octopus into my kitchen for the first time. I don’t know what started it but now I can’t get it out of my head. It’s not like I’ve eaten octopus any time in recent memory. I love the simple ingredients in your reciope and it looks like it really allows the star ingredient to shine.

    This post would make a great submission to Our Growing Edge this month. It is a monthly event celebrating new food experiences. Submission deadline is at the end of the month. More info here:


    • you should definitely give it a go – just make sure your pot is big enough to house the beast. And I will submit the post to Our growing Edge this month – thanks for suggesting it and for following my blog


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