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by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fish and Seafood

Fall Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(3) page(s): 5 and 24

The Chinese hold several animal species in high regard. The abalone, a member of the Haliotidaee family is certainly one of them. As such and due to its limited supply, it commands a high price and is beloved on special occasions and certainly at almost all festival times. There was a time when only royalty really knew this special food item, common folk thought they did, but most of them just knew to speak about them.

Rich or poor, titled or ordinary, who would think when looking at their ugly shells that a delicious fleshy interior hid within. The inside of those ugly shells has a magnificent luminescent interior. Once these mollusks were only available fresh, but about two hundred years ago they became available canned, and since then their availability and use has increased. In addition to canned abalone, there are now many new products that use them and so everyday use of the abalone is becoming more commonplace.

Considered one of eight valuable sea foods, abalone was known to be special in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 CE) and maybe even long before that. It belongs in a class almost as important as sharks fin and bird’s nest and other ingredients of that caliber.

Considered pu or heating, as are most animal foods, this particular animal lives in a top-sided multi-holed shell. There can be up to nine of these holes and they are always in a straight line from hinge to end. Only the largest of them is used for breathing, some are used for reproductive purposes, and others are for ridding the animal of its waste. If the shell is slightly ajar, you can often see their antennae sticking out. They are attached to the body of the animal, which is better known as its muscle.

From fertilization of the egg to maturity can take up to eight years, so though more are available, there is a somewhat limited supply of this algae-eating creature when it is young, and seaweed-eating animal when it gets older. Not all Abalone are alike. There are more than one hundred different species, each of which lives at different depths and many consume different species of algae and seaweed, as well. The abalone is temperature sensitive, and a change in it does have an impact on its development.

Most of the ones we eat, fresh or canned, are harvested in the wild, so they truly are in limited supply. Because of this, some countries regulate the amount that can be harvested, some only allow those taken off the rocks and by hand. Gathering them is no easy task because if this mollusk senses danger, it attaches itself so tightly that to remove it means cut hands and up to five hundred pounds of energy.

Where are they harvested, you ask? Most are found in Australia which is reported to be the world’s largest supplier, the black lip variety their largest species. Others are from Canada, Europe, Japan, Mexico, in the Middle East, New Zealand, South Africa, and of course in the waters of China and Taiwan. Japan and Mexico probably produce the largest supply of dried abalone.

Not only are abalone dried and canned and used fresh, they are now available frozen. Unfortunately, both dried and frozen, they can be tasteless, hard, or both; and it is extremely difficult to tell when looking at them. So one needs to buy from a trusted supplier if dried or frozen, and from a company whose products you know, when purchasing these low calorie critters, when canned. To complete the nutrition picture, three and a half ounces of abalone has about eight calories, is a good source of protein--eighteen grams to be specific, has lots of potassium (230 mg), and is low in cholesterol (60 mg); and the abalone has almost no fat.

The Chinese believe that abalone it not only gently heating, but also moist; in Chinese medicine it is known as shi-jeh ming. The Chhinese believe it good for the immune system, valuable as an adjunct therapy for cancer, and a brightener and healer for the eyes. They also advise that abalone increases appetite, and is a health food for the liver and kidneys.

Many purchase oyster flavored sauce, made from an oyster extract. Are they aware that there is also an abalone flavored sauce, found in a look-alike bottle made in a very similar fashion? For those who adore gilding the lily, so to speak, look for a canned product called whole sharks fin in abalone sauce.

For those who purchase their abalone frozen, defrost it in the refrigerator, and wash it to get rid of any sand. Then pound it both before and after slicing it; that tenderizes the muscle. If you like to purchase it dried, to get the best results, soak it for two or three days, keep it covered and in the refrigerator, and change the water several times each day. Some varieties of dried abalone need steaming for up to ten hours; most of these were dried months and months ago. Purchasing abalone canned saves all of these efforts, and is, therefore, the easiest to use. It does need rinsing in several changes of water before and after slicing it.

We like to prepare it in stewed dishes, cook it with pork on or off the bone, cook it in abalone or oyster sauce, and often we add wine and a mite of sugar when cooking our abalone. How long to cook abalone, even canned abalone, varies considerably. If you use fresh abalone, steam it for ten minutes to three hours, testing with a fork every ten to fifteen minutes. It is not unusual to need even more than three hours if the abalone you are working with is tough. All of these efforts can help when trying to understand why dishes made with abalone are expensive in restaurants, reserved for special occasions, and not cooked very often even at home.

There are newer ways to work with this specialty item, and we have selected recipes both for taste and for ease of preparation, always using canned abalone or abalone sauce. Canned abalone is easy to purchase, abalone sauce less so; so if it is unavailable where you live, substitute oyster sauce. We hope that you will try them; and that you will begin to enjoy this wonderful special Chinese food.
Abalone and Fish Ball Soup
1/2 pound crab meat, cartilage removed
4 ounces Chinese bacon, minced
1/2 pound canned abalone, diced
1 Tablespoon minced Smithfield ham
2 Tablespoons minced fresh coriander leaves
3 egg whites
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
8 cups chicken broth
1. Gently mix all the ingredients except the chicken broth and then form it into one-inch balls. Put them on a greased bowl and steam them for ten minutes. Be sure when removing them from the steamer to reserve the liquid.
2. Heat chicken broth with the liquid from the bowl of fish balls. When it comes to the boil, add the fish balls and serve.
Minced Pork with Abalone
2 Tablespoons corn oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound minced or ground pork
1/4 pound shrimp, peeled, vein removed, then minced
1 Tablespoon dried turnip or mustard green, minced
3 Tablespoons abalone sauce
1. Heat wok and add oil, then garlic and fry it for one minute.
2. Add pork and fry until no longer pink, then add shrimp and turnip and fry for one more minute before adding half cup of cold water and the abalone sauce. Cover and simmer for twenty minutes; then serve.
Note: If abalone sauce is unavailable, oyster sauce can be substituted.
Abalone-flavored Rice Noodles
1 Tablespoon corn oil
4 black mushrooms, soaked and sliced thin
1/4 pound lean pork, cut into slices the same size as the mushrooms
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons abalone sauce
1/2 pound wide rice noodles, or use rice noodle circles cut into two inch widths
1 small bunch Chinese chives cut into one-inch pieces
1. Heat wok and add oil, then add mushrooms and fry one minute. Stirring often.
2. Add pork and stir fry another minute, then add broth, abalone sauce, and the rice noodles and stir-fry for one to two minutes. Add chives, toss well, and serve.
Braised Abalone
2 Tablespoons corn oil
2 scallions, minced
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dry sherry
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 one-pound can abalone, drained and sliced thin
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with twoblespoons cold water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Heat oil and fry scallion pieces for half a minute, then add soy sauce, sherry, chicken broth, pepper, and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes.
2. Add abalone and simmer three to five minutes (less if very thin sliced), then add cornstarch water and sesame oil and cook for one more minute until it thickens. Serve immediately.

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