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Posted on Feb 22, 2008 | 39 comments

How to make an octodog (hot dog octopus)

How to make an octodog (hot dog octopus)

Japanese-style bento lunches for kids often feature the infamous “octodog”, a mini-sausage shaped like an octopus. I used to split hot dogs out of necessity when my son was just starting to eat solid foods to minimize the choking risk. Now, I’m more into quick and easy lunches than food art, but octodogs still thrill my three-year-old like nobody’s business and add some fun to a lunch.

Octodog comparison: Fried vs. boiled

I’ve seen a lot of different-looking octodogs in bentos, so I set out to compare how different sausages behave with different cooking techniques. The hot dogs to the left and right of the chopstick in the photo above were cooked with two different methods: one set was boiled, the other was fried in a pan with about a half-cup of water. Can you tell which is which? (Click to read the full how-to.)

Hot dog comparison for Sausage Types: First, I looked at some commonly available sausages. From the left, there’s a mini cocktail sausage (Smoked Beef cocktail sausages from Costco), half of a regular American hot dog (Ball Park Franks), and a Japanese Kurobuta arabiki pork sausage (JFC brand) that I picked up at a local Japanese market. You can see that they’re different sizes, but a not-so-obvious difference is that the arabiki sausage uses a natural sausage casing that helps the octodog legs curl when cooked (and gives it a crunch when you bite into it). I’m not a big fan of the flavor or texture of the American smoked cocktail sausages; if you’re able to find a less processed sausage like the ones from Aidells (my favorite brand) I believe they’re worth the extra money, and they behave more like the Japanese sausages used for octodogs.

Making an octodog: Cutting the hot dog

Cutting: Use a sharp knife to create the ‘legs’ of the octopus, leaving about a third of the sausage whole to form the head. The first two cuts that quarter the sausage are pretty easy; it’s the slicing of each remaining leg evenly in half that’s challenging. You can slice from the inside of the quarter leg down to the cutting board, but I find that I tend to make an uneven cut resulting in one fat, one skinny ‘leg’. I prefer to cut from the outside (as in the photo) to ensure even legs. I tried cutting the smallest cocktail sausages in quarters to see if I could get good results with less cutting, but the result was something that looked more like a strange quadropod than an octopus. Cut the tiniest sausages into sixths for better results (see the top photo for examples of both).

Gadgets? Yes, they sell gadgets out there just to cut octodogs (see the American octodog cutter for US$17 or the Japanese cutter for $2.50), but I prefer the precision of a knife. I did pick up the cheap plastic Japanese cutter and tried it out, but it wasn’t very sharp and mangled the sausages and hot dogs I used it on. Save your money and get your knives professionally sharpened instead (one of my Christmas presents last year) — it’ll pay off in your kitchen every day of the year with more precise cutting. They also sell mini sausage cutters for different shapes like a penguin, crab or tulip. The trick to getting good results with these is to briefly freeze the sausage for 20 minutes to firm things up before cutting, and to spray the inner cutting blades with cooking spray like Pam (then boil or fry briefly to help the design bloom). This improves the definition of the design so you don’t get a mushed up sausage.

Making an octodog #2

Cooking: Now for the answer to the photo quiz above. The sausages on the right were boiled in water, and those on the left were fried in a shallow pan with a half cup of water to help the legs curl. I like the look of the boiled octodogs better, but the arabiki sausage looked passable with the quicker pan-fry with water method (this is true with other sausages with natural casings). The deeper water conducts heat more thoroughly throughout the sausage, which is key for hot dogs that need a little extra help. Simply pan-frying the hot dogs without water doesn’t seem to apply even enough heat to help the legs curl nicely. (EDIT: Japanese readers suggested deep-frying; I tested this and wrote a follow-up here. Frying produced the fantastically curled tentacles on the arabiki sausage below.)

Deep-fried octodogs

Octodog toddler lunchDecoration: If you’re feeling super-ambitious, you can decorate your octodogs with little eyes and mouths. Stick black sesame seeds or onion seeds onto the head with a little honey, or use cream cheese or another sticky spread to affix little round cutouts of sliced cheese and nori to make eyes and mouths like the one shown in this article on Bentos, Childhood and Families in Manga. The lunch at left uses onion seeds — it’s a little snack bento I made in 2006. You can go all out on decorating if you like, or go minimal — the choice is yours.

* * * * *

Pad Thai bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Octodog with ketchup, orange wedge, and pad Thai noodles with shrimp.

Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using a leftover orange slice and pad Thai.

Packing: I put ketchup in a little wide-mouthed sauce container for easy dipping, and the lunch went into a 350ml Geki Rangers bento box with noodles in the place of the missing subcontainer.

Condiment cups for bento lunchesVerdict: Boo hiss! Bug ate only the octodog at preschool, and left everything else. This was largely my fault, as for some reason the pad Thai got stiff and unappetizing and I hadn’t cut between the orange flesh and peel to make it easier to eat. In the car afterwards I helped him with the orange and coaxed him to eat the shrimp (one of his favorites), but no go on the noodles even after I brought them home and warmed them in the microwave. I tried a bite myself and understood why Bug rejected them… On the bright side, Bug was so excited watching me prepare the octodogs that evidently he paraded around his classroom at lunchtime showing everyone his octodog.

FURTHER READING:

39 Comments

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  1. When lunch fails, at least there’s octodogs to cheer us up.

  2. I thought that if she is taking octopus and making hot dogs out of them I am questioning her sanity and am out of here ;). I was pleasantl sursprised it was the other way around :)

  3. Leaving would have been figuratively :)

  4. Biggie, just a note to say how much I enjoy your blog – my kids are too old for the cute bento stuff, but I’m making healthy ones for myself at work. Thanks!

  5. Actually I don’t think anyone’s too old for octodogs.

    My husband loves them as well as cutting the hot dogs into crabs.

    My 5 year old son prefers the crab hotdog to the octodog ones.

    My husband likes them both ^_^.

  6. Hi Biggie,
    日本の子供たちもタコさんソーセージが大好き。
    もちろん私も。
    Japanese children also like octgogs very much. Either me. It make us smile:)

  7. Octodog sounds cute :)

    Usually, I fry it with oil but next time I’ll boil it ;)

  8. Hi, Biggei !
    At any age, children like an octopus shaped sausages.
    My son love a crab shaped and a sunflower shaped one.
    I think that deep-frying is the best way looking delicious.

    ↑ ”揚げるとキレイに見えると思います。”

  9. Nice octodog entry. I never thought to cut my hot dogs in half but that sure would make them fit easier into my Mr. Bento.

    And thanks for the tip about avoiding the octodog cutter. I’ll stick with my knife.

  10. @1 from eudyptes: You said it — they are very cheerful!

  11. @2 from Jessika: Now that I think about it, “hot dog octopus” is probably clearer than “octopus hot dog” — I edited the title. Trust the non-native English speaker to point out my English mistake! ;-) Thank you.

  12. @4 from Artemisia: Thanks for the kind words, Artemisia! I’m having a lot of fun with the blog, glad you’re enjoying it.

  13. @5 from limu: I don’t know how motivated I’d be to make octodogs if it weren’t for my son, but I do have a soft spot for the little crab ones…

  14. @6 from Sundae: わざわざ英語でコメントを書いて有難う!やっぱりたこさんソーセージはうけますね。でもSundaeさんのかわいいキャラ弁と比べて大したもんない。
    Thanks for taking the time to write a comment in English, Sundae! Octodogs are definitely a hit with my son, but compared with your cute “kyara-ben” food art bentos, they’re nothing special.

  15. @7 from Yoshi: I wanted to get away from the oil for health reasons, but I probably should have thrown that method in the mix too for comparison purposes. Maybe an edit?

  16. I’ve seen them in Bentos but I wasn’t sure how to do it! Thanks!

  17. @7 from Yoshi: I just did a follow-up entry on frying octodogs here.

  18. @8 from hewei: I really like the crab one too — I haven’t tried the sunflower yet, but I will soon (have both sausages and quail eggs in the refrigerator). Thanks for the tip on frying; I just posted a follow-up with the deep-frying technique here.

  19. @9 from Fourleafclover: Yeah, I wasn’t at all impressed with the cheapo cutter. Don’t know how the more expensive one performs, but I don’t see why I’d invest in a uni-tasker when I have nice, sharp knives instead.

  20. @16 from Amber: Glad it was useful, Amber!

  21. I found an honest-to-goodness Octodog cutter still in the sleeve and never used at the thrift store for a few dollars and bought it immediately. I couldn’t justify the 17 dollars, but it was absolutely 3-dollar spiffy.
    IIRC, the directions say that using all-beef hot dogs don’t work as well, but we’ve found that they do, as long as you snip the very tip of the tentacle end off before starting to cut. It allows the dog to split on the device where before it would only smash up.
    Also, we microwave our octodogs and they curl right up. I stick a short chopstick in the underside (where the tentacles come together, stick the chopstick in a micro-safe measuring cup, and set the timer for 30 seconds. The suspended octodog curls right up :)

  22. @21 from marsneedsrabbits: Wow, great thrift store find!!! I love it when that happens (and I often find pretty plates and bowls for blog photos at thrift stores — for $1!).

    Thanks for the input on the beef vs. pork hotdogs. Fascinating microwave technique — I’ll have to try that out.

  23. I got my nephews, “Pop-Pop” (my husband), and my son Squinty hooked on octo-dogs and octo-squids.

    Hmm. I’m surprised octo-squids weren’t mentioned.

  24. @23 from Candi: Ha ha, I’m taking on one octo-creature at a time! ;-) (Love the nickname Squinty, BTW.)

  25. Hello Ms. Biggie! I am 19 yrs old and let me just say thanks for the wonderful tips about preparing nice bentos. hontouni kawaii!!! anyway, im gonna try preparing one and i’ll let you know how it turns out. bye-bye!!!

  26. any idea how veggie dogs would do?

  27. @27 from jane: I’ve read about other people playing around with tofu dogs and veggie dogs — I seem to recall they’ve had issues getting the “tentacles” to curl attractively. Boiling or deep-frying (ugh) might yield better results, but I haven’t tested them out with alternative dogs yets. If you try it, I’d welcome your feedback!

  28. I first saw these on your site and I FINALLY made them for my son today and he loved them! I don’t do bento, but i made him a little under the sea lunch and he ATE IT UP! Thank you!

  29. @29 from Corinne: Kids really like these — glad your son did too! :-)

  30. I didn’t have much luck with the legs, but my family really enjoys them. :)

  31. Glad to see that someone tried microwaving the octodog; when I read the boiling and frying experiments, the M/O came to mind. Next, I wonder if a pair of kitchen scizzors would be useful after the first two cuts. Seems to me that the first four legs would be awkward to balance and cut. Anyone tried that? I’ve got some Aidells in the freezer that are calling out to become octodogs for my DH’s next bento.

  32. ooo octodogs are soo cute and are fun to make, i love makeing these lol ^_^, but i found out that tofu dogs dont really work well when makeing octodogs -_-, but i still like to make these low fat hot dogs lol

  33. after they are cooked, can you freeze them?

  34. you can also make face using a knife before putting the octodogs in to boil just two small slits on the top and one on the bottom be prepared to have some cute but funny octodog faces :3

  35. do you make these the night before?
    and send it cold to school?

  36. wow, thx my bf will love this ahaha i’m mkaing him boxed lunches now :D

  37. That is so cute, Biggie. I wanna try doing that for my son. He loves hotdogs and I’m quite sure, he would love that octodogs, too. Parenting needs a lot of creativity, you know. :)

  38. We mde these in one of my kindergarten classes to go with an ocean theme unit. We put them in tomato soup and they were all gobbled up.

  39. Can you use vegetarian hotdogs for octodogs? I am actually a meat eater but we don’t have any meat hotdogs in the house. ^__^”

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