Nakji Bokum, or, Old Ones in the Sink

I dismembered, cooked, and ate a baby animal today. What worthwhile thing have you done with your life?

Scaring my mother with groceries is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.  It’s one of the few avenues of resistance left to a humble citizen of the People’s Republic of Food.  I’m also a big fan of the works of H. P. Lovecraft.  So when I passed the frozen fish section this week and spotted a package of baby octopus, I couldn’t resist.

I perhaps should have mentioned that I’ve got a gold medal in leaping before looking.

A few internet searches later, I knew a few things.  One: baby octopus is better than full-grown octopus (apparently the adults are a bit stringy).  Step ahead, as usual.  Two: either way they’re tough little sods and have to be tenderized.  The best way to do this is freezing them.  Step ahead again.  I mucked about on the Googles for a bit until I found the dish I was looking for.  One of the Korean restaurants in our neighborhood serves this dish, and I altered the online recipe somewhat to match what I recalled eating there.

When I brought said little sods out of the freezer this afternoon and left them into the sink to thaw, the Gastronomic Gestapo threw a hissy fit.  What the hell were those horrible tentacle monsters in her sink, get them out of there, oh god, o god, there were horrible tentacle monsters in her sink.  “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn,” I gurgled as best I could, but I don’t think the reference went through.

I had assumed when I bought the suckers (sorry) that they came cleaned.  Oh how wrong I was.  Now, mind, I’m not squeamish in a general way.  I’ve gutted many fish, squirrels, and other sundry critters without turning a hair.  But I hate eyeballs.  Eyeballs freak me out.  Octopus eyeballs are apparently worse than other sorts of eyeballs.  I gritted my teeth and cut around them.

My father, to my surprise, begged to try it when I brought it to the table.  I guess it provided a persuasive alternative to the bean soup we seem to live on most of the time.  I’ve been expecting my mother to yell “This! Is! Sparta!” any minute for a year.  He liked it, even though he’s no great seafood eater.

Mum wouldn’t touch the stuff with the bow of a steam yacht.

Here you can actually see the octopus.

      • 1 lb baby octopus, frozen (about six of the buggers)
      • 1/2 yellow onion
      • 2 fresh green chilies
      • 1 small red bell pepper
      • 4 to 6 shiitake mushrooms
      • 1 tablespoon sesame cooking oil
      • 2 1/2 tbsp gochujang (Korean chili paste)
      • 1 tbsp soy sauce
      • 1 tsp sesame oil
      • 5 cloves fresh garlic or 2 tbsp crushed garlic from a jar
      • 1 tbsp sesame cooking oil (usually a mixture of sesame oil and some kind of vegetable oil)
      • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
      • 2 green onions

Prep Time: 30-40 minutes

Thaw the octopuses by running water gently over it and then letting it sit for a few minutes in a lukewarm bath. Cut tentacles from head.  In the center of the tentacles will be the beak.  Pop it out and take care not to cut your fingers.  Cut tentacles into two-tentacle sections. Open head and remove the insides.  Discard guts, beak and eyes. Cut head into equal sized strips (quarters or eighths).

Cut onion in half from top to bottom, then thinly slice (about 1/8 inch thick). Remove stem from chili/jalapeño peppers, cut in half from top to bottom, and slice into thin slivers. Cut bell pepper in half from top to bottom, then thinly slice into strips. Thinly slice mushroom caps.  Discard stems. Crush or mince garlic into a medium mixing bowl.  Add soy sauce, sesame oil, and gochujang.  Mix well.  Let stand at least fifteen minutes. Add octopus to sauce and let stand for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Heat a stir fry pan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium.  Quickly add sesame cooking oil, onion and peppers.  Stir fry for one minute. Add all other ingredients and stir fry for about five minutes.  Octopus sections should curl up when thoroughly cooked.  Garnish with sesame seeds and sliced green onions.  Serve with rice.

Serves 2 with rice.  Riceless, I devoured the whole shebang myself.

In his house in my stomach dead Cthulhu lies dreaming.


48 comments on “Nakji Bokum, or, Old Ones in the Sink

  1. Freeskipow says:

    It looks delicious!

  2. Ippo says:

    Seems pretty amazing! I’ll try to cook it tomorrow!!

  3. I don’t think I could have done that. Good for you! I’m not that adventurous with touching raw meat. But I would have loved to try some!

  4. marymtf says:

    Look, can I be brave and say that I’m with your mum and don’t like octopusl? Or maybe (like your mum) I’m not brave enought to try it. But given the ingredients on offer, if I tried your recipe with some other seafood, I think it could turn out to be yumm.

  5. […] Nakji Bokum, Or, Old Ones In The Sink: Ugh, I hate when I get Old Ones in the sink. Nyarlathotep makes an awful strainer. […]

  6. theravenwine says:

    I love the texture of octopus & squid, they’re kind of similar to me. It did take me a while before I dared to try it (back in the day). Great-looking recipe!

  7. sophiamoniquephotography says:

    Horrible tentacle monsters in the sink! Lol. I remember when I first saw a batch of baby Octopus at a Chinese Buffet. Of course my daughter had to get one for her plate just to stare at it and make references to Squidward. I love this post and your food bravery.

  8. munchaholic says:

    Sounds wicked. I have been looking for something new to cook, by new I mean novel, and cooking octopus will be a first. Challenge accepted.

  9. rose1881 says:

    O.O that looks delicious……………

  10. Does soaking them in milk tenderize them like calamari?

  11. segmation says:

    Sounds like this was even better than the nakji bokkeum from the famous Mugyo-dong restaurant in Seoul! What is the next thing you are going to make?

  12. nap497 says:

    this looks good and authentic. baby octopus can also be eaten raw, which is a pretty awesome sensation. the season started yesterday, but i haven’t had it in quite a while. kudos for slicing and dicing the octopus. I can’t even imagine how they do it while the thing is still alive.

  13. Bianca says:

    I love the bright colours of the dish! I am the same in the kitchen, ended up with squid ink all over myself 🙂

  14. mytoughgirl says:

    I love squids~ octopuses are okay too. I just bought 3 squids yesterday on sale and it’s my hubby’s job to clean them and individually wrap them in zip locks to freeze them. I take them out individually to either blanch it to eat it with a simple korean chilli sauce or make a squid bokum like you did. I might actually eat that tonight when I get home~ yum

  15. andy1076 says:

    Oohhh this is so yummy!! 🙂

  16. marymary says:

    So interesting! I’d love to try this.

  17. the0n10n says:

    Reblogged this on Student Recipes.

  18. Robert Storm says:

    “That cannot die which can eternal lie, and with strange eons even death may die..”

  19. ginapoet says:

    I enjoyed that! Thank you!!

  20. samokan says:

    That looks so good, now all you need is some really good Kimchi to go with it 🙂

  21. Bonnie Lee says:

    I use to love eating fresh, responsive squid when I lived in Fukuoka, Japan. Then I learned how smart squid and octopus are and that made them harder to swallow. The dish looks wonderful. Any thoughts on how tofu or seitan might work with the basic recipe?

  22. This recipe looks delicious, although I would substitute shrimp for the octopus. I must try it. Thanks!

  23. Eyagee says:

    Hilarious reference to Cthulu! Still won’t eat Octopus….for same said references and fear of offending an Elder God…

  24. I think that is delicious .. yumyy yupss .

  25. meagan8477 says:

    Enjoyed reading your post! I tried san nakji once (freshly chopped up baby octopus that wiggles around as you eat it). That’s enough for me!

  26. Wow! If only we could taste through the pictures. Looks awesome!

  27. Ooooooh! just what I was looking for. Thanks for this.

  28. andmorefood says:

    this is possibly my favourite korean dish. if you ever do this again and don’t want to go through the shebang of freezing and prepping the octopus, you could get the bags of tentacles they sell in korean minimarts!

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