Almost a decade after Seattle wrestled with its love — and appetite for — octopus in a much-talked-about New York Times Magazine story, the city has the Kraken, a new NHL team named after a giant mythological cephalopod. Unlike the new pro team, which has united the city’s sports fans in their sudden interest in hockey, the octopus remains a divisive meat in the culinary world from two main standpoints: Some folks argue against the eating of octopus in part because the creature is highly intelligent; others are just repulsed by the idea of eating a tentacle with suckers.
When Jonathan Fleming, owner of the restaurant Pioneer Square Drinks & Eats, introduced an octopus burger on the menu in August, he called the menu item “polarizing.”
“The people who were into it and ordered it were blown away. Other people were like, no, not my thing,” Fleming said on a recent phone call.
Yet octopus connoisseurs love the meat for its buttery flavor and tenderness. And it’s popular enough that it continues to be featured on the menus of many restaurants around the city.
Fleming loves octopus. “It’s one of the things my wife and I talk about where, whenever we go out to eat, we order it every time,” he says. Fleming was a manager at Matt Dillon’s Bar Sajor when The New York Times Magazine profiled the restaurant in that 2013 story, juxtaposing the joy of eating octopus with the horror of the diving community when a man punched an octopus to death at a popular dive site in 2012.
“I don’t think it was as big of a deal for us as the story made it seem,” Fleming recalls.
Whether you grill, boil or fry it, the mighty octopus is notoriously difficult to cook perfectly. Nearly all muscle, the tentacles should be treated with care and patience: soaked, marinated, even massaged. In the wrong hands, the resulting dish can be rubbery, tough or even stringy. It’s something one rarely attempts in a home kitchen. When done right, however, octopus is incredibly tender and almost buttery. Sourced in Japan, Spain and occasionally straight from Puget Sound, octopus pairs wonderfully with everything from soy sauce and ginger to tomatoes and oregano.
When done right, it’s an exquisite dish that demands your attention. Case in point: When it debuted in August, Pioneer Square D&E’s octopus burger was initially meant to be a limited-period menu item, running as a special for three consecutive Mondays — a day that’s traditionally slow for restaurants.
Fleming says the people who ordered it “were blown away.” The response from diners during the burger’s three-Monday run was so overwhelmingly positive that Fleming and his chef Anthony Tran decided to keep it on the menu full time and expand the octopus offerings, adding a slow-braised octopus with broccolini and a soy glaze.
The burger features grilled octopus with chimichurri aioli and pickled red onions.
After a nearly four-hour braise in red wine and soy sauce, the octopus arm that’s the main attraction of the burger ($21) is flash-grilled before it’s served. The accompanying aioli combines cilantro and parsley with garlic, fish sauce and Fresno chili pepper.
Fleming says that because of COVID-19, sourcing local octopus has been difficult, so they’ve been sourcing a sustainable, trap-caught octopus from Spain.
“We are aware of the issue of octopus from Spain is being overfished for sushi purposes for the U.S. and Japan. I think it is important to look for the appropriate sustainable sources to make sure we’re as a society being responsible,” Fleming says.
If a burger isn’t your thing, there’s always simple grilled octopus. Fremont’s RockCreek Seafood & Spirits has had a barbecued octopus on the menu since the seafood-focused restaurant first opened in 2013, sourcing a farm-raised octopus from Spain.
“Of all the dishes I’ve created, this is one of my favorites. It’s one of a few menu items that’s been on there since day one. Octopus is a protein that takes on the flavor of however you decide to cook it,” said RockCreek chef and owner Eric Donnelly. “It really reflects a flavor profile the restaurant is known for, and something people have come to love and expect.”
Right now, RockCreek’s take on grilled octopus comes with fingerling potatoes, cannellini beans, tomatoes, olives and an olive aioli ($22). The barbecue lends a nice char and texture to the octopus, which is firm, yet tender enough to practically be cut with a butter knife.
For something cooler, don’t miss the tako poke at Seattle Fish Guys, located in the heart of the Central District just off South Jackson Street.
Manager Ian Tanaka says they source the octopus from Japan and marinate it in shoyu and chili flakes. The octopus here has a bouncy chew and enough heat to make your lips lightly tingle. Poke bowls are served with your choice of seaweed salad, mac salad, kimchi or squid salad, plus brown or white rice ($15.99). Go with a two-protein bowl — I’m partial to the salmon belly or the shoyu tuna — for an extra two bucks.
Wherever you satisfy your octopus cravings, resist the urge to yell “release the kraken” upon ordering — hockey fan or not.