Octopus poached in olive oil

Octopus poached in olive oil

Modern Italian Food
Earl Carter

I was initially rather reluctant to include this recipe, but when Cheong Liew cooked it at the Mildura Writers’ Festival for the guest of honour, Clive James, it occurred to me that this recipe is a real foodie treat and I should include it.

It is not Italian, really, because Italians prefer to boil the octopus, slice it thinly and then dress it with olive oil and lemon juice. However, its intentions are deeply Mediterranean.

Three ingredients are important here: the octopus, the garlic and the olive oil. Some attention to detail is needed in the cooking, but not overwhelmingly so. Served as an antipasto, you only need small portions.


Quantity Ingredient
1 litre olive oil, or enough to cover the octopus
4 thick octopus tentacles
1 head really healthy garlic, broken into cloves
20 small black olives, (optional)
2 long red chillies


  1. Heat the oil in a small, heavy-based pot until it is almost smoking. Use a pair of tongs to carefully lower each octopus tentacle into the oil. When seared, remove the tentacle from the oil and set aside. When all the tentacles have been seared (and it only takes a few moments) lower the garlic into the oil, and then the olives and chillies. Return the octopus tentacles to the oil and lower the heat to the lowest possible temperature. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until the octopus is tender. Be careful not to overcook, or the octopus will turn a little pasty.
  2. Use a slotted spoon to remove the octopus, garlic and olives from the oil. Allow to cool, then slice each octopus tentacle to your desired thickness. Use the olives and garlic cloves as a garnish – the garlic is perfect for squeezing out of its skin.
  3. Cheong Liew served this poached octopus with a salad of green leaves, avocado and soft-boiled eggs. I guess you could also poach the eggs to end up with a sort of octopus Caesar salad. A few anchovies would certainly not go astray here. Dress with the mayonnaise.


  • There will be a lot of precious olive oil left over. There is also quite a lot of octopus juice mixed in as well, so I suggest you use it to make a rich tomato sauce. When in season, use fresh tomatoes, otherwise tinned ones will do. The idea is to end up with a good balanced sauce that tastes a little of octopus and is dense enough to serve with pasta. If you can, use home-made fresh pasta, as it is more porous than the dried varieties and will therefore absorb a fair bit of liquid.
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