Octopus Sous-Vide Time and Temperature

Octopus can be tough and tasteless, but when cooked sous-vide more flavor is retained and it will be tender with the right combination of time and temperature. So far I have always used 4 to 5 hours at 77C/170F or 3-4 hours at 85C/185F with good results. But because octopus loses so much liquid when cooking it and because I saw Italians advising 8 hours at 72C/162F, I thought it would be interesting to try lower temperatures. Since an octopus has 8 legs, I tried 8 different combinations of time and temperature.

For this experiment I used the octopus above, which was frozen and after thawing weighed 1.7 kilos (3.7 lbs). Freezing is known to have a tenderizing effect on octopus, so if you use a fresh octopus, you may need to increase the time or temperature. The size also matters: a higher temperature or longer time may be needed for a larger specimen.

I cleaned the octopus and cut it into the 8 legs, head, and ‘connecting part. For the experiment I used only the 8 legs. There was quite a bit of difference between the weight of the legs, with the smallest at 121 grams and the heaviest almost double that at 221 grams. However, I did not notice any pattern in the loss of juices or tenderness that could be attributed to the difference in weight.

I vacuum sealed the legs without adding anything to the bag and I wrote down the weight of each bag.

Initially I cooked only 7, and wanted to decided on the last one based on the results of the others.

I gathered all the liquid to use for a risotto, and weighed and tasted all of the octopus legs. Based on the results I opted to cook the final one for 24 hours at 60C/140F. The results for all 8 time and temperature combinations are shown in the table below.

Findings:

  • the differences in tenderness were very small. The tenderness is written down as my subjective judgement of the tenderness on a scale of 1 = very tough to 10 = very tender, with 6 being sufficiently tender but with still quite a bit of bite. All of these were fine and I really had to taste them side by side to tell the difference. This is why I rated them only in the range of 7 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • the octopus loses a lot of liquid when cooked for all time and temperature combinations, about two thirds of the starting weight. Although the difference in weight indicates that there is some difference, I could not taste that in the juiciness of the octopus. The yield for 3 hours at 85C/185F seems to be an anomaly; I’m not really sure what happened there. In general it seems that a longer time means a slightly higher loss of juices.
  • When you decrease the temperature by about 7C/13F, the cooking time roughly doubles to achieve the same tenderness. This can even be extrapolated to boiling the octopus (i.e. cook it at 100C/212F), it will be as tender after 1 hour as it is after 4 hours at 85C/185F.

The main conclusion is that if you adjust the time appropriately, any temperature of 60C/140F or higher will work to cook octopus sous-vide, and the results will be very similar no matter what temperature you pick! So you can pick a time and temperature that is most convenient for you, or perhaps cook the octopus along with something else that requires a specific temperature.

This is a remarkable conclusion that shows that octopus is very different from meat, because for meat the difference between cooking it for example 24 hours at 60C/140F or 3 hours at 85C/185F will be VERY easy to notice!

Some people have reported that octopus cooked sous-vide was tough. If this happens to you when using a time and temperature combination listed above, you could simply increase the time and/or temperature when cooking octopus from the same source the next time around.

(Please note that if you cook the octopus below 60C/140F, you would have to cook it for a very long time and a bad smell can occur. That is why I advise against it. I know because I’ve tried. At 55C/131F the loss of liquid was still similar, so there is no use for it anyway.)

7 thoughts on “Octopus Sous-Vide Time and Temperature

  1. A Sunday debate, Stefan ! Am certain we both were part of such in our high school days and after . . . ! I have read your above experiments more than once . . . kudos for the interest and careful ‘lab’ work. Obviously of interest to you. Now, I happen to love octopus . . . the baby ones usually end up in my oft-times prepared stirfries, the lovely big ones are most often cooked Mediterranean-style, bathed in tomato and onion subjected to a variety of herbs and a few spices. Cooked, with the most beautiful aromas rising stovetop, for as long as it takes. No temperature gauges, no exact timing. Have yet to put a less than enjoyable dish along some salad and perchance a noble grain on the table. I respect and admire your interest and your exactness and the correctness of your results . . . . just wonder how I am just as pleased with mine, having used the extra available time for so many matters always awaiting my time limits . . . . *huge smile* . . .Just wondering about each precious minute of the day . . . a debate, as I said . . .

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    1. Hi Eha, if you are going to have the octopus with the sauce (tomatoes etc.) then I would also cook it on the stove. But the traditional method takes considerably more hands-on time than cooking it sous-vide because the pot needs to be tended, while sous vide would not require any attending and actually would take only 2 minutes of hands-on time and freedom to do whatever while the octopus is cooking. The sous-vide method is most suited for octopus that is going to be served Italian style, cold with olive oil, parsley and a drop of lemon juice, because more of the flavor will be preserved inside the octopus. With a sauce it is fine that the flavor ends up in the sauce. If this post demonstrates anything, is that exact timing is not at all important when cooking octopus sous-vide, as the results for 3 or 4 hours were so similar.

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  2. Thank you for having taken the time to respond to an ‘obstreperous child’ ! I promise to be ‘good’ next time you publish ‘sous-vide’ !! I am a typical Gemini – I can and do think in two opposite ways . . . methinks the main ‘problem’ reading your and Conor’s etc posts is that I still have to be convinced of the efficacy of sous-vide cooking 🙂 ! Methinks we are allowed our differences !!! With glorious fresh ingredients I am very hands-on preparing them for the delights of consumption . . . with the amount of food TV watching going on in this house I am not ignorant . . .as a med school graduate I just do not envisage my dinner ‘bathed’ in warm water at exactly the right temperature ‘for ever and ever’ only to have to be ‘coloured’ in a pan after . . . over and out with a big hug . . .

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  3. You are a very detailed and precise person, thank you for taking the time to experiment with the octopus. I ate quite a few of these delicacies while in Spain, but they were mostly grilled.
    Slightly off topic, I recently made an Asian-inspired steamed fish that I think would be perfect for sous-vide (and I think you’ll love it too). I will be posting the recipe next time I cook it, as I didn’t take photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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