The main issue with octopus is toughness. Large octopus needs to be cooked for a very long time, and they are often beaten beforehand, a bit like tripe, for tenderize them. But baby octopus is another story. It needs long slow cooking, but 45 minutes to an hour is often enough for the smallest varieties. Slightly more mature octopus is sometimes also sold as ‘baby’ octopus, so cooking times may vary. Like squid, octopus also need to be cleaned (see Notes below) but more often than not they are sold pre-cleaned. Or you can ask your friendly fishmonger to clean them for you. Once they’re clean, rinse them well and set them in a bowl until you are ready to begin cooking.
NOTES: A bit like a pizzaiola, the red sauce makes a delicious dressing for pasta. If you want more sauce, you can up the ratio of tomato to octopus from 1:2 to 1:1. The pasta could be served as a primo before the octopus or at a separate meal.
You can also use a pressure cooker to speed up the cooking time. It should take about 20-30 minutes after it comes up to pressure. You will then need to simmer it for a few minutes to reduce the sauce, since there is much less evaporation when cooking under pressure.
The august Jeane Caròla Francesconi includes a recipe for this dish in La cucina napoletana. She is very adamant that you should make sure that the lid should be tight when simmering, and suggests using a piece of waxed paper (you could also use aluminum foil) to ensure a seal. And she admonishes the reader not to open the lid during the simmering. Not sure why but I won’t question her wisdom! Of course, this is not an issue when using a pressure cooker.
As mentioned, the only tricky part of cooking octopus is the preliminary cleaning of the octopus, which is to say removing the inedible bits. You need essentially to remove its ‘mouth’, which is located on its underside, at the center of its tentacles. This can be done fairly easily with a paring knife. You then remove the ink sack (most but not all octupus have one) and any viscera through the resulting hole. (Be careful not to puncture the ink sac, as you will wind up with black ooze all over the place!)
|A pre-cleaned baby octopus|