There's more than one way to tenderize an octopus. Cooks in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, dip the creature in boiling water three times before cooking it. We tried this method for ourselves, dipping one octopus Galician-style and putting another one straight into the pot. Then we cooked both. The triple-dipped octopus won tentacles down. It was perfect; the other one had the consistency of a garden hose. According to A. J. McClane's Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery (Henry Holt, 1977), dipping heats the octopus gradually, so that its proteins break down slowly instead of instantly contracting in reaction to the hot water. There are, however, other paths to tenderness: Joël Guillet, chef at Le Mas du Langoustier on the Île de Porquerolles, tenderizes fresh octopus by putting it in his freezer overnight, which is another way to break down the proteins. Lydia Shire, owner of Boston's Biba and Pignoli, reports seeing commercial fishermen in Italy tenderizing octopus by shaking it in a contraption resembling a washing machine. And SAVEUR contributor Diane Kochilas, whose most recent book is The Greek Vegetarian (St. Martin's Press, 1996), says that fishermen in Greece obtain the same result by thrashing octopus against a rock. Yikes! We'd rather dip.
1. Place the octopus in a colander, rinse it well with cold water, and drain.
2. Using a long pair of tongs (or a coat hanger), hook the octopus through the slit just above the eyes. (The flesh is strong, and won't tear; the weight of the octopus will keep it secured.) Quickly but completely submerge the octopus in boiling water for about 3 seconds, then lift it out. Repeat the process twice more. Return the octopus to the pot, then add 1 halved onion and 1 bay leaf and cook until tender—about 30 minutes for a 1½-pound octopus.
3. Remove the octopus from the pot, shake off excess water, and drain on a wooden cutting board (wood will absorb extra water). With scissors or a sharp knife, remove the tentacles, then cut the head and tentacles into 1'' segments.