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How to Make Perfect Spanish Tapas- Pulpo a la Gallega

Updated on October 18, 2010


Today I’m going to explain to you how easy it is to cook one of Spain’s most popular tapas dishes, Pulpo a la Gallega.


Pulpo gallego literally translates to Galician Octopus, yes that’s right, Octopus. When I was first offered this dish in a tapas bar many years ago I have to admit that my stomach turned slightly and I had flashbacks to my childhood and the 1983 James Bond Film, Octopussy!


A few years later I was in a restaurant having dinner with some Spanish friends and I found myself in the same situation. This time the combination of wine and my curiosity got the better of me and I tried what was one of the most simple, amazing culinary delights that I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Chewy, salty, sweet and filling, healthy and satisfying, pulpo a la gallega is simply awesome.

In a nutshell, the octopus is boiled, sliced and then garnished with paprika, rock salt, olive oil and served on a wooden platter.

Many of my friends enjoy eating this dish in a tapas bar or restaurant, but would never consider cooking it at home. For many it’s just the thought of knowing what to do with a whole fresh Octopus that scares them.  But as you will see from this Hub, cooking Octopus is nothing to be afraid of.

This recipe is completely authentic, shown to me buy a Galician friend who had it passed down from her mother who had it passed down from her mother who had it passed down from, well you get the idea! In it you will find a couple of secret tips that you are unlikely to find anywhere else, so don’t go telling everyone!

The first step is to get yourself an Octopus. Unless you are a deep sea fisherman, I recommend your Fishmonger as the best place to do this. Ask your fishmonger to clean the Octopus for you and he will do so, eliminating lots of the hard work. An Octopus of about 1.25 Kilos will be perfect for this recipe.


Now that you have your fresh Octopus, it’s time to tenderize it. Hang on, put that meat mallet down! Put the Octopus into your freezer for 2 days. The water that is in the Octopus will expand when frozen, breaking down the tendons and sinews thus leaving you with a lovely tender Octopus.  The day before you cook the Octopus, remove from the freezer and thaw on a platter allowing the water to drain off. Now, you have the perfect Octopus, let’s cook!


Use a large pan, and fill with enough water to cover the Octopus completely and bring to the boil. To the pan add a couple of Copper Coins. Traditionally Octopus was cooked in Copper pots and giving the end product a more orangey color and minerally flavor. Also to the pan add a large slug of Aguardiente or Brandy. This will help to tenderize and flavor the Octopus further. At this point you may want to consider adding a wine cork to the pot. Apparently there is an enzyme in the cork which helps to tenderize the meat. Personally it’s something I’ve never tried as time after time I’ve achieved perfect results without one, but I´ll leave it up to you!

Next, holding the Octopus by the head hold over the boiling water and dip in and out the water 3 times, letting the water return to the boil in-between dips. This is what the Spanish call “asustar el pulpo”, which means “Scare the Octopus”. After the 3rd dip, submerge the Octopus and boil gently for up to an hour. You can tell when the meat is tender by checking with a fork. When the octopus is cooked and tender the most important part of the process begins. Leave it alone, in the pot and allow the water to cool to the point of near room temperature. This aids with tenderness and avoid the skin separating from the flesh. When it’s cool enough, remove it from the pan and place it sucker side up on an up turned bowl to drain.. When drained cut each tentacle into thin slices and arrange on a wooden serving platter. Season  the with rock salt and dust with paprika. Finally drizzle with a large glug of Olive oil. Give a fork to each person and enjoy!


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    • profile image

      Toz 3 years ago

      Trying it now! Than ks for the recipe

    • Rob3ie profile image

      Rob3ie 7 years ago from Spain

      Sounds interesting David, Ill be sure to check it out.

    • profile image

      Russell-D 7 years ago

      Loved the Octopus in Spain. Next week, in an article titled "Foods Disgusting Today, Tomorrow's Delicacies". I tell of how in Tokyo Sushi Bars, baby octupus is cut and served live. Shows how foods delightfully wonderful for one set of peoples are abhorent to others. I think you'll find my take on Food interesting. It posts Friday. David Russell