Sushi Items – Tako (Octopus)
Tako (Octopus) is daunting for those new to sushi or to making sushi as home. It looks strange to those unaccustomed to eating it, and when cooked, it has a rubbery, tough texture that requires slicing into thin pieces (and tenderizing optimally) in order to be served sashimi style. Tako is somewhat of an anomaly in the sushi world in that it is almost always boiled before consumption in order to bring out the faint flavors of the dish, and more important to tenderize the meat (in addition to manual tenderizing by pounding the meat). It is also quite nutritious, and more data on that can be found by clicking on “The Seafood” on this UC San Diego website page and our sushi calories section on this site.
Octopus is consumed throughout the world in a variety of dishes and styles of cooking, but ubiquitous to the dish is the need for tenderizing, a process we cover in our “side dishes” section. Methods of tenderizing vary widely across the world, and often seem based more on superstition than fact (some chefs will tell you that it must be boiled in a copper pot, or that the only way to be certain is to throw it against a spotlessly clean sink four times in a row). The most common way for Japanese sushi chefs to prepare it is through a salt wash which gets rid of any remaining slime and viscera, and to then massaging it with salt and chopped daikon radish. If this step is ignored, it may lead to a finished product that feels like you are biting into rubber. When prepared correctly, however, tako is delicious served on its own, in sushi, or in salads, with tako salad being a common side item in Japanese restaurants.
Tako is sourced from all over the world, with most of the product arriving from the Northwest coast of Africa. It is also commonly fished in Asian waters and the Mediterranean. For the purposes of sushi making, and all the Japanese-style preparations, it is then almost always processed in Japan, which is the largest hub of octopus preparation, freezing, and shipping. The octopus is a short lived animal, and therefore does not accumulate high quantities of mercury the same way that large predatory fish with long life spans do. It is also high in protein and low in fat. Nutritionally speaking, octopus is a fairly low calorie food, making it a great choice for those concerned with nutritional issues.
If you are able to get your hands on fresh Tako, count yourself lucky. It is a delicacy when prepared correctly, and is not as daunting as one would first think. If you do wish to try Tako sashimi, your best bet is a high quality sushi restaurant with experienced chefs where it will be sliced finely and expertly. We do not advise trying to make tako as sushi or sashimi at home if you are not experienced, as its tough nature may make it not unheard of to slice off the tip of your finger or end up with too-thick rubbery chunks as you try to work with the slippery cephalopod. But with practice, you can master the art of preparing this food, which is a delicious and fairly common around the world.