El Octopus

The El Octopus at El Berraco isn’t your normal serving of octopus.

The cephalopod class may be more than 300 species strong, but they all have one thing in common: A propensity for their texture to be reduced to rubber.

Rubber? That’s rubbish, said a local restaurateur as he revealed his secrets for an extraordinary octopus on my inaugural visit to his Latin fusion seafood eatery.

This octopus oracle is Benjamin Galaz of El Berraco (2960 N. First Ave.), and he’s been up in arms, so to speak, about the bad rap that these creatures get—simply because they aren’t cooked appropriately. He admits that his process takes more time than the standard preparation, and requires a wider casting of the net to find the best product, but the result makes it all worthwhile.

He sources his octopi exclusively from Campeche, a state in southeast Mexico. He told me that he’s worked with several varieties from many different regions, but was an immediate convert the moment that he sunk his teeth into those beauties from the Yucatan Peninsula.

“For whatever reason, the Campeche octopus retains most of its size after it’s been cooked,” Galaz said. “Most other octopus shrink as they cook, and that may contribute to the rubbery texture.”

Each of Galaz’s octopi arrives at the restaurant weighing approximately 16 ounces, and stays in that zone, give or take an ounce or two, throughout the cooking process. And this cooking process is where most of his magic happens.

He begins by submerging the whole octopus, one at a time, into a pot of boiling water for 45 seconds. Once it’s removed from the hot water, it’s subsequently plunged into a pot of ice water.

Sounds like a simple blanch, right? Think again.

He then returns the octopus back into the boil for 45 more seconds, and repeats this two-step cycle until it’s fully cooked. Though I inquired, he stopped short of sharing just how many cycles it takes lest he give away all of his secrets, but he swears that this double-dunk preparation completely rids the octopus of its rubbery reputation.

Finally, it’s marinated in a sauce of chiles, lemon juice, black pepper, and other seasonings, finished on the grill to give it a little char, and plated in all of its poundage alongside a mound of cilantro rice and a colorful salad with greens, avocados, cucumbers, onions and cherry tomatoes.

I ended up putting Galaz’s bold claims to the test that afternoon, and was surprised by just how tender it was. It was decidedly steak-esque. It shared many of the qualities of beef tenderloin, and didn’t give my knife the workout that I was expecting, having survived many a struggle with ill-prepared squid, calamari and other members of the cephalopoda.

The dish is called El Octopus, and it’s obviously attracted quite a following at El Berraco given today’s Campeche-Tucson traffic pattern. Galaz is currently bringing in more than 200 octopi every week. That’s 6,400 arms, legs, tentacles—or whatever you choose to call them—stretched out before his guests monthly.

“This is an exotic dish, it’s exotic to order and exotic to eat,” said Galaz. “It has a fresh and clean flavor without a fishy taste, and the texture is very tender.”

Don’t let its rubbery reputation rob you of a memorable octopus experience. There’s hope with Galaz and his team at the helm, and they’re ready to greet you with open arms (and tentacles).

Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at mrussell@russellpublic.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.