The folklore of oral tradition has, over centuries, attributed enormous aphrodisiac powers on most of the sea’s edible bounty, owing to the goddess Aphrodite who emerged from the ocean and from whose name we get the word ‘aphrodisiac’. The abalone is just one of these mysterious creatures believed to have been a mighty aphrodisiac, one of Aphrodite’s play things.
Across the majority of oriental cuisine, the abalone has been esteemed for playing its part in increasing libido and heightening sexuality and as a result has been over-fished to the point of extinction and now intensively farmed to supply the world’s ever demanding markets.
Also known as ‘the sea ears’ the abalone is not only for its succulent and rich meat as the shells too have their role to play, albeit in jewelry. The nondescript outer shell encrusted with ‘beards’ opens up to a glorious iridescent beauty that captures the myriad of sea colours. Saxon, in Jack London’s, The Valley of the Moon, recalls that her “father had a set of cuff-buttons made of abalone shell”. The shell is also used in crystal and gemstone healing and recent research on ancient civilizations indicate that the ancients believed that the abalone was a gift from the sea, establishing a connection to the heart and revitalizing it.
In the kitchen, the abalone has similarities with the scallop and conch – all with rich, firm and sweet flesh ], but unlike the scallop, the abalone requires a bit more elbow grease during preparation.
To prepare the abalone, remove it from its shell by scraping in between the shell and the flesh with a thin wooden spoon or spatula until you have separated the muscle from the shell. Holding the main muscle, trim off the viscera/guts and discard (you could use them in soups and stews if you wanted). Scrub the black film around the meat and trim off the ‘lips’ so you’re left with one solid piece of meat.
Cut thin slices of abalone and beat them with a rolling pin (put them in a plastic bag first) to tenderize. You can now cook it, or have it as sashimi with some wasabi.
Abalone with Shitake Mushrooms:
6-8 Abalone slices, beaten & tenderised
4-6 large shiitake mushrooms, sliced.
4-6 water chestnuts fresh or tined cut into fine discs (reserve ¼ cup of the water after sieving it through a muslin cloth)
1tsp – roughly ground ginger
4 shallots – sliced
2tbsp. Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
3 tbsp – Light Soya sauce
2 – dry crushed red chilies
1tsp. sesame oil
1tsp peanut oil
1 tbsp – Cornflour –to slightly thicken the sauce
Heat both the oils
Add the crushed red chilies
Add mushrooms and water chestnuts
Add all the sauces
Cook for five minutes
Add ½ of the reserved water chestnut water
Cook on high heat for 2 minutes or till the sauce is reduced to half
Add the Abalone and the onions
Cook for 2 minutes
Dissolve the corn flour in 3 tbsp reserved water, making sure it is not lumpy
Pour it in the centre of the wok constantly stirring. Remove from the heat
Garnish with freshly chopped coriander and finely sliced spring onions.
Serve immediately with sticky rice.