For an octopus whose fate it is to end up in a kitchen, Masato Shimizu’s at 15 East is not a bad place to go. Imagine a long, leisurely trip across the Atlantic from Portugal to New York. Upon arrival in the city and Shimizu’s kitchen it’s still alive, which for the octopus, usually cleaned, packed and frozen, is very nice indeed. The first kind, the North Pacific Giant octopus, could be served raw, kept alive among the smorgasbord of sushi fish until ‘flight of octopus’ night. The second type, the Madako (or Common) octopus, is sourced mainly from North Africa and less often from Portugal, which Shimizu prefers. And it reaches its slippery (and flavorful) heights when skinned and gently simmered…
As instructed by his Japanese master sushi chef for 7 years, Shimizu distinguishes between good slippery and bad slippery. Good slippery is the jelly-like texture of a properly cooked tentacle. Bad slippery is that outer membrane that guards the octopus’ second layer of skin. Shimizu gets to the good and gets rid of the bad by way of massage. Think of it as an intense twenty-minute octopus salt exfoliation. At ideal massaging velocity this means you’re covering the body exactly 500 times with your hands. The salt wears at the outer membrane and exposes a tender, inner-skin. But Shimizu warns overzealous octopus masseurs against taking the tenderizing too far – over-massaging will have the adverse affect of toughening the flesh. 500 times, no more, no less. From here, the octopus is lowered gently into flavored water and simmered for exactly 40 minutes, twenty on each side.
Step 1: Kill the octopus with a knife and clean by removing eyeballs, beak, eggs and any innards in the head cavity.
Step 2: Massage the octopus’ skin with salt 500 times, or for 20 minutes.
Step 3: Gently simmer the octopus in water flavored with sake, rice vinegar and soy sauce
Step 4: Cook for 20 minutes, flip, cook for another 20 minutes, and slice evenly.
Clean octopus by removing the eyeballs and beak. Massage the skin with salt for 20 minutes. In a large pot, bring water to boil and add sake, vinegar and soy sauce. Bring to boil and turn down the heat to low. Gently place the cleaned octopus into the pot by holding its head and slowly lowering it into the liquid, legs first. Place a lid one size smaller than the pot on top of the octopus. Put a weight on the lid to stabilize. Cook for 20 minutes and then flip the octopus. During the cooking process, skim off the froth that rises to the top of the pot. Cook for another 20 minutes and remove from heat. Cut legs into ¾ inch slices. Place seven pieces on a plate with a pinch of sea salt on the side.