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Baby Octopus/Squid and Chinese Celery Stir-fry (mực xào rau cần)


baby octopus celery tomato

This is a classic preparation in Vietnam, except usually we make it with squid. The baby octopus just looked really good at the market that time, so we thought – why not? With squid, you would slice it thin or score criss-cross on a 2×2” piece of squid, to make it cook fast without getting chewy, and absorb the sauce. I took a chance with baby octopus and saute it really fast, and then cut it up when we eat. There is a slight chewy texture, but not in a bad way!!

A note about celery: in Vietnamese, celery-like vegetables are generally called rau cần. There’s cần tây (“western celery”, literally), which I think is used for both the normal American celery, and Chinese celery. There’s also cần ta (“domestic celery”), which is another thing altogether, even though it looks similar to Chinese celery. Cần ta doesn’t have a crunchy texture, and its stem is cylindrical (kind of like the green onion shape) instead of dense. Anyway, not sure what my point was, but I don’t really know how to translate Chinese celery into Vietnamese, and cần ta into English. Cần ta is awesome with soup though. It’s a pity we never see it here in the US.


Serves 4

1 pound baby octopus, cleaned

1 bunch Chinese celery

2 tomatoes, sliced

3 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste

3 tablespoons sriracha

Juice of half a lemon

1 onion

1. Marinade the octopus in sriracha, fish sauce and juice of half a lemon for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime wash and cut the long Chinese celery into thirds or quarters (length-wise).

2. In a large saute pan, saute the onion until soft , then add the celery and saute for 5 minutes until soft but still a bit crunchy. Add the baby octopus and its marinade and stir quickly, saute only until just cooked (the meat will be pokeable with a chopstick, not transparent, not too soft).

Push the octopus to the outside rim of your pan where it’s less hot, or you can even REMOVE the octopus from the pan. Add the tomatoes last for another 3-5 minutes until just cooked. If you have a really really large pan, you can put in the octopus and tomatoes together at the same time. Serve and enjoy!


6 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. What a striking picture! I’ve always wanted to cook octopus, but it intimidates me. All the recipes I’ve come across say to cook it super quickly, like you did, or stew it for a long time. Hopefully, one of these days, I’ll get over the intimidation and try it! 🙂


    • do you cook with squid? Cleaned, cut squid is pretty innocuous. I once had to clean a whole squid (basically gutted it) and it was annoying (if you’re not used to squid you might even freak out, like my bf’s mom did). But baby octopus is not that bad – not a lot of gut, always pre-cleaned. It can look a little sloppy when raw but once you throw it in the pan it becomes more…organized? The tentacles that is 😀 Good luck and let me know when you try cooking octopus! (We also pressure-cooked octopus once and it was really good too, although I like fresh stir-fry octopus much better).


      • I tried to fry up some squid over the summer. I don’t think I got my oil hot enough to fry it into delicious crispiness. But hey, it’s still squid, and THEREFORE always delicious, right? Thanks for the tips on baby octopus. I’ll keep a lookout for when I go to Chinatown or Flushing for groceries.

      • you’re…American. Squid never has to be crispy damn it! That’s like, the only way Americans would eat it! If you want it crispy you will have to bread it.

      • I did. I was trying to make it Spanish style-tapas. But yes, I know squid is delicious stewed in a claypot as well. 🙂

      • hmm yeah probably the oil. I fail all the time trying to make crispy sweet potato fries by baking instead of frying. Crispy food is hard.

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