Octopus with Wasabi


An unlikely couple, chewy raw octopus and fresh wasabi are made for each other; the combination satisfies those spice cravings I often get. Fresh wasabi stem, or Japanese horseradish, has a heat that’s more like mustard than like a chile pepper. It hits the nasal passages more than the sensory receptors on the tongue. Unfortunately, fresh wasabi is hard to find outside of Japan, though some farmers are now cultivating it in California and elsewhere as the demand increases. A common substitute for grated fresh wasabi—even in well-respected sushi restaurants—is actually a blend of horseradish, mustard powder, and green food coloring. If you can find real wasabi, use it right away after grating it, as prepared wasabi actually loses flavor after about 15 minutes—hence sushi chefs’ practice of dabbing it between the fish and the rice to preserve its pungency.


1 cup fresh raw octopus (see Note)

1 Japanese or Persian cucumber, unpeeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1⁄2-inch dice

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon grated fresh wasabi (if fresh wasabi is not available, substitute prepared wasabi from a tube, found in Asian groceries)

Put the fresh octopus on a plate, and chill it in the freezer until it is frozen (this process kills potential parasites). Slightly defrost just before preparing the dish; partially frozen octopus will be easier to cut.

Place the diced cucumber in a colander, sprinkle the salt over it, and let it sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes to drain it of excess water.

Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, sake, and wasabi in a small bowl to make the vinaigrette. Set aside.

Dice the lightly frozen octopus into ½-inch chunks. Let the chunks thaw; then rinse them under cold running water and pat them dry.

To serve, mix the octopus, cucumber, and vinaigrette in a bowl, and divide it among 4 small plates.

Note: If you can find fresh baby octopus, this is the best option. If raw octopus is not an option, you can substitute canned cooked octopus, available at most Spanish groceries.