11 Creative Uses For Canned Octopus

Octopus can often seem like a mysterious and intimidating ingredient, but cooking with the canned version joins the convenience of having a pre-prepared fish with the adventure of working with a new and exciting sea creature. Indeed, unlike fresh octopus, which requires time-consuming preparation such as cleaning and tenderizing, canned octopus is ready to use straight from the tin, saving you valuable time while still providing a unique flavor and texture. This makes canned octopus an ideal ingredient for busy weeknights or spontaneous gatherings when you crave something unusual yet delicious without the hassle.

There is also a considerable versatility element. Octopus' tender yet meaty consistency makes it perfect for grilling, sautéing, or incorporating into hearty stews and salads. Whether you prefer classic Mediterranean flavors or bold Latin-inspired dishes, canned octopus can adapt to various cuisines and cooking styles, adding a unique twist to your culinary creations. In this guide, we'll explore an array of tantalizing recipes showcasing the versatility of canned octopus. From pasta sauce variations to potato salad accompaniments, you'll discover how this underrated and overlooked item can transform ordinary meals into extraordinary dining experiences.

1. Try your hand at a Pulpo Alla Gallega

Part of the joys of traveling to Spain is sampling the various culinary specialties it has to offer. One such specialty is Pulpo a la Gallega, a dish native to the northwestern region of Galicia, which sits right on the Atlantic Ocean — a prime spot for savoring seafood. Between the easy access to fresh octopus and the plethora of produce available to the Galicians over the centuries, it's no surprise that this dish developed in that area.

But we also understand that one doesn't always have the chance to travel to Spain, nor is it all that easy to get fresh octopus straight out of the sea, especially if you live far inland. That's why we recommend the use of canned octopus for this dish, should you ever wish to try making it at home. As for the rest of the ingredients, which are mainly potatoes and smoked paprika, you should have no problem obtaining them. King Edward potatoes will do just fine, sliced and layered, while you can find smoked paprika in most grocery stores. If your canned octopus isn't already sliced, be sure to cut it into 1-inch pieces before assembling the recipe. Bear in mind that this is a sharing dish, in typical Spanish tapas style, so don't forget to serve it with toothpicks for easy handling.

2. Amp up a white sauce

Pasta with red tomato sauce is one of those simple joys that are easy to make and can satisfy us quickly on a busy weeknight. But tomato sauce every night can get old, too. That's why you might also want to pair your pasta with a white sauce once in a while, and we have just the ingredients for amping up its flavor without too much fuss. Canned octopus or any kind of canned seafood, can help layer the flavor of a white sauce with minimal effort, whether you're making Alfredo, béchamel, or anything else. And while you can certainly use fresh seafood for this endeavor, why complicate your life when you don't have to?

Start the process by putting together the basic ingredients for your white sauce, such as olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, and white wine, or milk, butter, and flour. Then add the juices from your canned octopus before involving the chopped octopus towards the end — octopus tends to become tough and chewy when not prepared properly, so beware of overcooking it. As for accompaniments, octopus follows many of the general rules of fish, meaning garlic and fresh parsley leaves help bring out its flavor.

3. Grill it and serve it with ancho salsa

So you want to try a grilled octopus with ancho salsa recipe, but you don't know where to get fresh octopus. And even if you did, you wouldn't know the first thing about cleaning and cooking it. While it's definitely worth learning all that, especially if you're a big octopus lover, you can also use canned octopus for your first attempt at this dish, just to simplify things for yourself -– you would have to boil the octopus before grilling it anyway, so now you can skip that step. Just be sure to find a version where the canned octopus has not already been diced up. Smaller pieces will be decidedly tricky to grill.

If you feel like you're copping out by using canned octopus, you can redeem yourself by making the ancho salsa from scratch, as this is the real star of the recipe anyway. Combine dried ancho chilies with lime juice, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and honey, and most of your job will be done. The rest is just about charring the exterior of that octopus on the grill so that it comes out nice and crispy. Pair the octopus with rice and canned corn.

4. Change up your pasta puttanesca

Pasta alla puttanesca, a staple Italian recipe, is traditionally made with little more than tomato sauce, olives, and anchovies — for the umami factor. But if you feel like you've mastered simple Italian dishes and are ready to move onward and upward, this octopus puttanesca with beer might be a good place to start. Just know that it can be a bit laborious, though the canned octopus should help cut down on time and toil.

To make this, you'll be able to skip much of the octopus preparation part and jump straight to the step where you dice it into small pieces and add it to a pot containing beef fat, herbs, crushed tomatoes, and red wine. Since you're working with canned, pre-cooked octopus, you can wait to add the chunks until the sauce has already been reduced so as not to overcook them. Serve the sauce with al dente pasta, as you would with any other puttanesca. With this one, you can further embellish the flavor profile by adding beef butter and breadcrumbs for a touch of crunch.

5. Swap out the squid for a salt and pepper dish

Chinese cooking varies widely as you travel across the country, so it should be no surprise that Cantonese dishes would hold a number of surprises you won't find at your local Chinese restaurant. One such dish, which American palates are not too accustomed to, is the salt and pepper squid, which can be made with canned octopus instead for convenience as well as flavor.

To make this dish as authentic as possible, you'll have to bear in mind that you're not making the usual deep-fried calamari appetizer. This one uses a lighter coating of cornstarch and flour and is cooked in a wok rather than a deep fryer. As for the seasonings, be sure to get hold of salt and Sichuan pepper, though you can also play around with other traditional Chinese spices such as star anise or five-spice powder. The final touch comes when you then fry the octopus for a second time along with your choice of aromatics, such as garlic and ginger. Serve the dish with fluffy rice.

6. Prepare a flavorful stock

The thing about stocks is that you can put pretty much any ingredients you want in a pot of simmering water, and you'll end up with a flavorful base to use in a wide range of recipes, from risotto to stews. Most people turn to chicken for these ventures, devising strategies to draw the most flavor out of chicken bones, skin, or even feet. But the same can be done with octopus -– minus the feet and bones.

Anthony Bourdain used fresh octopus to add taste to his stocks, and while that may be the ideal scenario, it's not always possible, and canned octopus can impart that same type of umami without all the trouble of getting hold of a fresh invertebrate. The octopus also brings its own uniquely tender flavor to the stock as it joins in seamlessly with the whole black peppercorns, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and oil. While his recipe calls for the octopus to be first seared, then removed and added to the pot later, you can skip the searing stage, as that presumes you are using raw octopus when most canned octopus is already cooked. But don't worry about adding the fish too soon –- you will eventually strain the octopus and other solids before using the stock, so you won't be dealing with chewy octopus.

7. Go light with an octopus aguachile

Octopus is one of those rare ingredients that can shine both in heavy, hearty stews and light and airy dishes. To illustrate the latter point, we bring you this octopus aguachile, a fresh octopus salad tossed with cucumbers and a zesty dressing. But don't be fooled -– it's not necessarily a simple dish to make, though using canned octopus will make it easier and quicker.

That's because, in addition to the cooked cephalopod, you'll also need to prepare a homemade habanero oil, which involves broiling and blending, and the aguachile itself, which involves at least a quarter of an hour dedicated to macerating. And it doesn't end there. Before you assemble all the ingredients for this recipe, you'll also have to blacken the avocado in the oven. But if you have the time and inclination, it's all worth it. The flavor is decidedly boosted when you add that caramelization effect from the broiler. The proper infusion of tastes through maceration also plays a prominent role.

8. Braise and serve it with potatoes

Some ingredient pairings seem to be made for each other. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or cheese and crackers. Octopus has found its soul mate in potatoes, which seem to complement both the flavor and texture of the cephalopod at every turn. To illustrate this point, we bring you not one but two recipes for octopus with potatoes. In the first instance, we have Alda's braised octopus with potatoes recipe, which involves cooking the potatoes with herbs and aromatics before adding the octopus to create a light stew.

Another option is this octopus salad with potatoes and capers. After boiling and dressing the potatoes and cooking the cima di rapa leaves, assemble this lovely spring-forward recipe by combining these ingredients with a lemon juice dressing and serve the result with the octopus. Or you can simply mix the octopus into the salad, especially if it comes diced. For best results, serve this salad at room temperature, where the flavors can come out more strongly.

9. Make a terrine with dill

Slicing and dicing octopus parts isn't the only way to enjoy the rich flavors and unique texture of this ingredient. You can also leave the tentacles as they came in the can or slice them just enough so that they form a flat surface upon which you can place your favorite toppings. That is the case with this octopus terrine and dill recipe, where an octopus tentacle serves as a base for an exciting combination of flavors.

Although you may miss out on a flavor layer brought by cooking octopus in white wine, you can still use canned octopus for this recipe, as long as you find a version that comes in fairly large chunks. Put your efforts into lining the bottom and sides of a loaf pan with the octopus before weighing it down and refrigerating it. By the time you boil the potatoes, let them cool, and combine them with crème fraîche, you'll be able to take out the octopus and serve it up with this mixture. Top everything with fresh dill and a drizzle of olive oil, and pair the bites with a crisp white wine.

10. Create a fun octopus salad

Truth be told, you could toss some good-quality canned octopus in almost any salad, especially a potato-based one, and instantly add an exciting new flavor element. But we're here to take that impulse one step further by telling you about this Marc Murphy-style grilled octopus salad, which uses our favorite invertebrate in a purposeful way that also draws in a spicy interplay with chorizo.

The key here is to grill the octopus. But while you may balk at that, considering that your canned octopus is already cooked, know that this recipe calls for octopus to be cooked and cooled before it goes on the grill anyway. Canned octopus fits the bill. The grilling is not strictly necessary for safety purposes -– it's just there to give the octopus an added smoky flavor and crispy texture. Another layer of flavor comes from the marinade, in which the cooked octopus must rest for at least six hours before you can proceed with the grilling. This consists of oil, lemon juice, parsley, oregano, garlic, red pepper flakes, and seasoning. Place your canned octopus in a bag with these ingredients and follow the rest of the recipe as if you'd been using fresh octopus all along.

11. Put it in a stew

A stew is one of those dishes that can be made with almost any protein, as long as it comes with a hearty sauce to go with it. And that's precisely what's happening in Gordon Ramsay's Sicilian octopus stew, a dish he shared on YouTube. He uses octopus that couldn't be fresher -– meaning straight out of the Sicilian sea and into the pot. But getting hold of that type of ingredient can be a challenge. He even says in the video that "getting my hands on these little suckers has been a real battle."

No need to worry about that with canned octopus. Although you're foregoing the freshness element, you can't underestimate the convenience factor. Indeed, all you have to do to make this stew now is toss the can of chopped octopus into your sauteed aromatics and add cherry tomatoes, capers, anchovies, parsley, fish stock, and olive oil. Simmer your mixture for around 35 minutes, and you have yourself one of the quickest stews known to the culinary world, as long as you don't spend time trying to catch a live octopus.