Sea creature of the month: Octopus

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The octopus is one of the oldest creatures in our seas, with fossils dating back 296 million years, and their ancestors predate dinosaurs. When we’re young they’re often introduced to us as funny-looking fish that inspired scary, mythical creatures like the Kraken, but how much do we really know about them? Here are a few octopus facts, including the best ways to easily cook them at home.

  1. Starting with their name, octopus derives from the Greek Oktopus meaning ‘eight foot’, signifying their most recognisable feature - their eight arms.

  2. Interestingly, octopuses have not one, not two but three hearts. While one pumps blood around the body, the other two pumps blood through each gill.

  3. Unlike most creatures, their blood is actually coloured blue. This is due to its copper base rather than iron.

  4. One of the most well-known facts about the octopus is that they can squirt ink. This is a technique they use to deter predators as the ink temporarily blinds and confuses the unsuspecting creatures.

  5. Octopuses also have the ability to camouflage themselves to blend with their surroundings, avoiding possible dangers and predators.

  6. Although they have these protection techniques, they actually have quite a short lifespan. Some species only survive six months while others can live as long as five years.

  7. An element that could explain their shortened lives is the facts they often die soon after mating. Once the male has given the female his sperm, he floats off - sometimes literally – and dies a few weeks later, while the female doesn’t live much longer after she lays her eggs.

  8. Octopuses are squishy and actually boneless, so they can squeeze into and out of small, tight spaces. They are also considered to be one of the most intelligent invertebrate species in the world.

Why eat octopus?

The thought of eating octopus might seem strange to some but it’s considered a delicacy in many cultures. Octopus is especially popular in Asian cuisine, while Korean and Chinese foods often feature octopus in some form. In Japan, it is often eaten raw, while in Greece they tend to grill it over an open flame. Although it’s not the most common seafood in the UK, it is slowly growing in popularity.

Eating octopus comes with many health benefits, as it’s high in iron, omega 3 fatty acids and protein. Plus it’s great for anyone calorie counting or wanting to lose weight as it’s low in calories and saturated fat.

A serving of octopus can also provide the entire daily requirement of vitamin B-12, which is essential for metabolism, creating new red blood cells and supporting everyday brain functions. The daily dose of vitamin B-12 is 2.4 micrograms, in a three ounce serving of octopus there’s over 30 micrograms! Not to panic, there’s no severe side effects for consuming too much.

Where can you find octopus?

As it’s not the most common type of fish to appear on the local chippy’s menu, buying octopus can be slightly harder than normal. They’re found to the south and west of the British Isles in rocky areas and shallow waters and are landed in most Cornish ports, according to The Cornish Fishmonger.

If you’re thinking of adding octopus in one of your dinner dishes then it’s probably best to contact your local fishmonger to see if they’re landed nearby and for tips and advice.

Octopus is landed at Plymouth Fisheries in small quantities, however tenant businesses including Moby Nicks, Rex Down Fish Merchant and RG Seafoods would be able to source octopus on request. Visit our website for more information, including how to contact merchant units.

Cooking octopus

Most of the meat on an octopus is in the eight arms, which can be tough if it’s not tenderised before cooking.  Traditionally, the octopus was thrown against rocks to tenderise it, but unless you want your neighbours to think you’re a lunatic, the best way would probably be to leave it to simmer for an hour.

The meat reduces in size when cooked so it’s best to use more than you need for a recipe. Also, the beak and ink sack should be removed before cooking.

Octopus can be cooked in a variety of ways, and grilling is a popular choice.

Roasting tends to take more time, while boiling is a quicker option. Braising, poaching and pan frying are other cooking methods that could prove a unique twist on your evening meal.

Detailed recipes and step by step guides can be found on the BBC website, Great British Chefs and Food & Wine just to name a few.