Pacifically Pulpo

By Lisa Elbert | Megan Swann | Antoinette Bruno


Lisa Elbert
Megan Swann
Antoinette Bruno

Remember “The Octopus That Almost Ate Seattle”? Now, Seattle is biting back. Literally. Seattle is under full-on octopus occupation. They’re in the harbor. They're in the zoo. They have a bar named after them, and they’ve infiltrated nearly every menu in the city.

A sizable contingent of chefs purchase home-grown Giant Pacific octopus, harvested as bycatch in local waters and the Gulf of Alaska. Compared to its smaller Mediterranean cousins, GPO is saltier with higher water content, and its flavor intensifies as it cooks and releases water. “[GPO] grows to a large size in a short period of time, and I believe that makes their meat lighter and less dense than in other parts of the world,” says Rising Star Chef Brendan McGill of Hitchcock and Hitchcock Deli. “The super-cold water means there’s a high fat content, and that clean, pristine Pacific Ocean flavor.” Chef Branden Karow of Ethan Stowell Restaurants also uses GPO, “First, it’s a local product that is sustainably fished, and I feel good about serving it. Second, it’s delicious!”

Chef Jason Stoneburner of Stoneburner and Rising Star Chef Heong Soon Park of Tray Kitchen cook on team Mediterranean. “Local octopus tends to be bycatch, and may not be handled or stored properly,” says Stoneburner. “Portuguese octopus is a Smart Catch, sustainable seafood, and it’s shipped on overnight flights.” Park worked primarily with GPO, but made the switch when his vendor, Taylor Shellfish Co., picked up Mediterranean. His GPO techniques didn’t immediately transfer, but, in time, he found the Mediterranean’s smaller size beneficial in terms of prep and cook time. 

The success of any octopus dish lies in its texture. Even though they’re experimenting with different techniques and species, these four chefs arrived at the same goal: a bursting-with-flavor, tender piece of ’pus on each plate. 

Brendan McGill | Hitchcock Deli

Charred Giant Pacific Octopus, Heirloom Potatoes, Pimentón Dulce, Wood-fired Cauliflower, Parsley Purée, and Pea Vines
McGill “scares” fresh, 25- to 40-pound GPOs multiple times in unsalted, boiling water to seize and firm the meat, and preserve the shape and suction cups on the arms. He transfers the octopus to ice water, slowly brings it to a boil, removes it from the heat, and rests it in the liquid until cool. Finally, McGill portions and compresses the octopus with lemon, olive oil, and parsley. At pick-up, he generously salts the arms and chars them à la plancha.

Branden Karow | Staple & Fancy
Braised Octopus and Tomato Paccheri
Karow’s locally sourced GPO comes in frozen, and the thawing process helps break down the cell structure and tenderizes the meat, so “there is no beating, throwing it against the wall, or wine corks involved,” he says. He slowly “dry braises” the octopus with vegetables and aromatics in the oven. As the octopus cooks, it releases its own liquid, and retains most of its natural flavor. Karow adds just a pinch of salt at pick-up to highlight the natural salinity of the octopus.

Jason Stoneburner | Stoneburner

Grilled Octopus, Celery Heart, Cucumber, and Poblano Crema
Traveling from a small fishing village in Portugal, Stoneburner’s Mediterranean octopus is a Smart Catch, sustainable seafood. He braises it in “seawater” made in-house by combining various seaweeds with a 3 percent sea salt solution—a similar salinity to the ocean. The oceanic punch and umami blast that come from the seaweed and kelp braise help highlight the deep-sea flavor of the octopus. Wrapped in kombu and braised for 20 minutes, he finishes it with a hot sear on the plancha.

Heong Soon Park |Tray Kitchen
Grilled Octopus and Cucumer Salad
Locally sourced from Taylor Shellfish, Park uses Spanish octopuses that weigh 3 to 5 pounds each. The drastically smaller size allows for a shorter cooking time and makes portioning easier. Once cleaned and thawed, he braises the octopus in one cup of dry red wine (he thinks that red wine enhances the flavor and color in a manner that can’t be achieved by white wine or citrus) and herbs for about two hours. Ultimately, the meat releases an additional 5 cups of liquid and enough salt to season itself.


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