Baby Octopus in Tomato Sauce

Baby Octopus and Tomato Stew

While doing my weekly sweep of the Whole Foods seafood case, my eyes wandered across a tray of glistening octopus that looked like it had come straight off the boat. I’d never seen fresh octopus in these parts, so I checked the label, and sure enough, it was “previously frozen”. It did look good though, and at less than five dollars a pound, I figured I had nothing to lose.

I’ve never cooked octopus before, so I figured it was worth looking up in my food Bible (a.k.a. On Food and Cooking). Because octopus meat is primarily muscle and connective tissue, it starts out chewy when lightly cooked, turns tough when moderately cooked, and goes on to become tender went cooked for a long time. Further research also revealed that frozen octopus tenderizes much faster than fresh octopus. Score!

Braised Baby Octopus

Still thinking about Spain’s win in the World Cup, I decided to give this stew a Spanish touch. I got it started with a sofrito of celery, onions, garlic and tomatoes, then rounded it out with piquillo peppers and sweet paprika. As with all new foods I experiment with, I wasn’t expecting much at the get-go, but I’d be lying if I said my expectations didn’t grow as the kitchen filled with the wonderful aromas of garlic, tomatoes and peppers intermingling with a light sea breeze.

Baby octopus and sofrito

After giving the octopus a head start, I added some just-dug potatoes that were so fresh, the skin literally washed off. These fresh Yukon Golds had a silky, almost waxy texture that worked as the perfect counterpoint to the protein rich octopus and the sweet, tangy sauce. My only regret is that I didn’t have a glass of Albariño and a loaf of bread to sop up the thick sauce with.

Baby Octopus in Tomato Sauce

1 pound baby octopus, cleaned and dried
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small stalk celery diced
1 small onion diced
4 cloves of garlic minced
2 tomatoes chopped
1/3 cup chopped roasted piquillo peppers (or roasted red bell peppers)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 bay leaf
1 tsp kosher salt
black pepper
10oz new potatoes cut into wedges (4-5 small potatoes)

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat until hot then add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the octopus and fry undisturbed until it’s browned on one side. Flip the octopus over and brown on the second side. Transfer the octopus to a plate then add the remaining tablespoon of oil.

Add the celery, onions and garlic and fry until translucent and just starting to brown around the edges. The caramelization will add a lot of flavor to our sauce but they’ll still be firm enough that they’ll add texture to the dish. Add the octopus back in with the tomatoes, roasted peppers, paprika, bay leaf, salt and pepper, then let the mixture come to a boil while stirring it all together.

Turn down the heat to medium-low, partially cover with a lid, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and stir to combine. Partially cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring periodically, until the potatoes and octopus are tender and the sauce is nice and thick.

  • Veronica

    Really love these recipes. I am just finishing up an intensive course at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. As much as I love French food, it was so refreshing to be in Barcelona, eating all these seafoods that are fresh and very “simply” made yet so tasty and refreshing!

    Would love to pick your brains about how you got started in this. Email me at Hasta luego!

  • PeterM

    I love baby octopus and I too get it frozen as well (which is fine). Try the octopus with some elbow pasta.

  • norecipes

    Hadn't even thought of serving it with pasta. Great idea!

  • Peter G

    Marc, this is so simple yet I can imagine the wonderful taste. We have a similar dish in Greek cuisine though this one looks more flavourful. Love the paprika!

  • Chef E

    Man this looks fantastic and you have done a great job with it! We had an Octopus Bulgogi at a new Korean place in town- was fantastic with all the (kimchi rocked) banchan! I miss making it in the restaurant when I worked full time!

  • thelacquerspoon

    Thank you for the lovely recipe! Love to mop up the sauce with slices of bread :)

  • Maameemoomoo

    Very lovely!

    I can almost taste it already. For someone who always have squids in the freezer, i'm gonna give this a try!

  • CatSlave

    Wow!. That looks terrific, must try. Thanks for all your marvelous recipes.

  • Ken Leung

    How delicious is that? I love octopus, large and small. Definitely a must try in my book.

  • Ken Leung

    How delicious does that look. I love octopu, large and small. This is a must have in my book. Thanks.

  • Gina – Gluten-free Gourmand

    I first tried octopus in Spain, where it's served in a number of dishes. I love octopus, and cooked it for the first time last year. One thing that I learned about cooking it in addition to the items you mentioned is that older octopus has to be braised longer than the baby ones. This recipe looks fantastic. Thanks for the idea!

  • Gina – Gluten-free Gourmand

    Marc – At what point would you add the octopus back into the pan – with the potatoes or with the tomatoes? Maybe it depends on the octopus!

  • norecipes

    Nice catch, thanks for pointing it out:-) They go back in with the tomatoes.
    I've updated the recipe.

  • Gina

    Well, I guess I could have figured it out if I'd looked more closely at the pictures! That's a pretty one with the fresh tomato sprinkled with pepper.

  • Mei Teng

    Wow…excellent photo. Great looking dish.

  • my spatula

    i am a HUGE octopus fan!! thank u for this!

  • ninja halloween costumes

    This looks very yummy! Thanks for the recipe!

  • Muneeba

    Ohhhh how I love baby octopus! *sigh* … I'd order this dish if it was on a restaurant menu, and happily pay good money for it too :)

  • Obesebaby

    Nice pic, I was glad there is a recipe to this dish although ur blog is call no recipes =)

  • chef dad

    made this dish today.. very great recipe!! i added more black pepper though.. haha.. thanks!!!

  • Catluver7654321

    I always wanted to try Octopus but i never knew if it was good or not. I’m kind of scared to try it. Is it good or what?

    • monster64

      Why are you scared?  It’s food…try it…you might like it….IF you don’t you’re only out a few dollars.

  • didi

    I just made this for dinner and it was quite delicious! The octopus came out very tender; I will definitely make this again. I omitted the potatoes, though and served it with couscous. Great recipe! Thanks a lot!

  • Jasrose

    This was my first time cooking whole octopus, and it went really well! I didn’t have any peppers, so I used red curry paste, and it worked! I wished I had made rice or some other grain to eat it over, though.

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  • Debby Barr

    I’m confused. In the directions in the second paragraph you mentioned bell pepper, but it is not listed in the ingredients. Is bell pepper part of the recipe? This is my first time making baby octopus myself and I don’t want to screw up the recipe.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Debby, sorry about that, it’s a little confusing. It’s the 1/3 cup roasted piquillo peppers, but roasted red bell peppers will work as well.

      Sent from Mailbox

      • Debby Barr

        Thanks I am getting ready to make them tonight. You will find this funny. I thought I was getting just the tentacles, but its the whole octopus. I researched how to clean them and am confident it will turn out great. Thanks for answering so quickly.

        • Marc Matsumoto

          Hi Debby, that must have been a surprise! Hope it turned out well:-)

          • Debby Barr

            Well, now I’m an expert at cleaning baby octopus AND saving the ink sacs, just for fun. The dish tasted great. The octopus was still a bit chewy, but not overly chewy. There was one that was not chewy at all and I remember what I did while cleaning them. I was pulling off the “skin” off the hood and I wondered if there was one on the tentacles and there was. So I pulled the one off of the tentacles to check for a difference and it made a big difference in the texture of the tentacles. I have another pack of frozen baby octopus and when I cook them, I will use your recipe and completely clean them. I cooked the hoods and when I bit into one, it was so awful that i spit it out. Totally different taste compared to the rest of them. From now on, only the tentacles and save the ink sacs for fun. Maybe I can sell them to a tattoo artist. ha.

          • Marc Matsumoto

            Hi Debby, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this! It sounds like you have the chewiness thing figured out, but you might also just be able to increase the amount of time you cook this to get them tender. As for the hoods, I actually included them in when I made this and the texture is definitely different, but the taste should be the same. As for the ink, I haven’t really heard of using it in food (as opposed to squid or cuttlefish ink), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a good idea. If you end up trying it out, I’d be curious to hear how it is.


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!

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