octopus-and-potatoes-with-chinese-five-spice-powderOne of my favorite octopus dishes is pulpo a la gallega, Galician style octopus with potatoes.

It is essentially a salad with boiled and sliced octopus and potatoes.  While it may not sound exciting, the octopus and potato form such a magical pairing that when seasoned with paprika, olive oil, and salt, they will leave you speechless with delight.

My dish today is inspired by this iconic Galician dish with a Chinese twist.  Instead of using paprika, I favor the dish with five-spice powder, a traditional Chinese spice blend that provides a complex, sweet and savory aroma to the boiled octopus and potato.

You can use store-bought five-spice powder for this dish.  However, for best results, make your own by following the recipe here.  To deepen the flavor of the five-spice powder, I use the “blooming” technique, by quickly frying the spice mix in hot oil before mixing with other ingredients.

The most important thing about cooking octopus is to achieve the right texture.  It should not be too soft or too hard: just a little firm so it’s both tender and pleasantly chewy. I recommend that you buy frozen octopus, because freezing and thawing jump start the tenderizing process and help reduce cooking time significantly.


Octopus and potatoes with Chinese five-spice powder

Makes 2 servings


1.5 lb (680 g) frozen octopus, thawed and cleaned
8 oz (230 g) fingerling potatoes
1-inch ginger, sliced
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon chile pepper powder, optional
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper


  1. Bring 3 cups of water in a pot to a boil. Add the ginger and Shaoxing wine.  Add the octopus to the water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook for about 45-60 minutes (the cooking time will depend on the size of the octopus), until the octopus is tender but still slightly firm. You can check the doneness by using the tip of a sharp knife: when it meets little resistance, the octopus is done.  Transfer the octopus to a platter to cool.
  2. Cut the fingerling potatoes into about ¼-inch (6 mm) thick rounds. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and add the potatoes.  Cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes.  Remove the potatoes from the pot and drain well.
  3. Slice the octopus into about 1/2-inch (1.3 cm) thick rounds.
  4. Heat the oil in a hot wok or skillet over medium heat. Add the five-spice powder and chile pepper powder if using, and quickly stir-fry for 15 seconds.  Add the octopus and potatoes; stir and mix for 1 minute.  Add the soy sauce and continue to mix for 15 seconds.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.  Serve immediately.
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