From Y3K Recipes Issue no.4 - Jan/Feb 2002.
Copyright of Y Three K Publisher. All rights reserved.
A Brief History
Abalones are harvested in many regions around the world, the seas around Mexico has the best ones. Abalones are also found in the waters around Australia, along U.S.A.'s Pacific Coast, the Arabian Gulf and of course, the sea around Japan.
However, only Japan can boast a special variety of abalones that can be cured without compromising its distinctive aroma - a delicacy much sought after the gourmets around the world. Abalones from other regions are usually sold canned or fresh.
The sea around Japan where abalones are harvested is pollution-free. This is one of the reasons for the good quality.
What is special about Japanese dry abalones?
To begin with, the semi-opaque dried abalones are distinguished by its special smooth flavour and rich aroma. When sliced open, it has the colour of salted duck egg yolks with a slight tint of gold.
In terms of shapes and sizes, the Canadian abalones are closest to the Japan variety. In fact, a group of Japanese abalone masters went to Canada with the intention to produce dried abalones with the Canadian variety. But, after several months of experimentations, they returned to Japan with disappointment. They are now more convinced that Japanese dried abalones are unique.
Generally, the string of bays dotting the Iwate and Aomori prefectures produces the most famous abalones. The finest abalones are found in a strip of water known as Three Trees in Miyako. But it is not easy to harvest abalones here. The reasons are the great depth and older abalones are wiser. They have learnt to avoid suction tubes by hiding deep down. As they tend to evade the hunters for a long time, they are often larger than normal.
Recently, the Japanese government enacted special laws for harvesting abalones. Fishermen must use a periscope and special suction tube to catch abalones. They are not allowed to dive into the creature's habitat. Fishermen are only allowed to catch fully grown abalones. Undersized ones should remain untouched.
Abalone fishermen work throughout the day. Only 10 per cent of the catch is used for making dried abalones. The rest are canned or made into abalone sashimi or tepanyaki. Recent times in Japan, Abalone sashimi has become very popular as a highly nutritious delicacy. Until recently, the Japanese did not know that such delicacy could be made from dried abalones. Now they have learnt the secrets from Chinese chefs. The production of dried abalones is bound to increase.
A Master's touch
In Japan, three families are renowned for the production of dried abalones.Each family has a master who is both the director and producer of the show. To produce perfectly dried abalones, their experiences and expertise are crucial.
First, skilled women workers carefully separated the flesh from the shell, this process demands utmost skill because damaged abalones will be rejected. Being so, unskilled workers will never be employed.The technique of separating abalones from the shell is not as easy as it seems, the innards of the abalones,a delicacy, must also be extracted. This surgeons will definitely lose their jobs after a few blunders.
Once the abalones are removed from its shell, they are immersed in salt water for two days. After that they have to be thoroughly boiled. Then spun in a revolving cylinder to remove all impurities. The process takes about an hour. An abalone factory is always steamy hot, so hygiene is very important. Therefore, women workers wear special headgear and plastic overalls.
These skilled workers now move the abalones from the boiling water onto a huge strainer, the sized of a single bed. They do not touch the abalones with their bare hands, and instead use large wooden spatulas. Once cooled, the abalones are place on a bamboo stand.
Then, the bamboo stand is placed over a large charcoal oven. The clay brick oven normally holds only 3-4 pieces of charcoal internally. The slow heat evaporates the moisture in the abalones without damaging the stand. This requires careful control of intense heat. When the abalones are about 80 percent dry, they are sewn together with large needles and thin strings from one end to the other. A string of abalones usually consists of 10 golden yellow pieces. These strands are then strung on bamboo sticks, which are fixed vertically on wooden squares. Hundreds and thousands of abalones hoisted in these frames make a spectacular sight. They are thus sun-dried for about a month, as the abalones turn reddish. Excessive sunlight will damage the abalones.
A small quantity of the Japanese harvest is exported to Hong Kong as dried abalones, the rest are for the domestic market in Japan.
Recipe 1: Endowed with New Year Happiness
1 Amidori Abalone (about 150g)
300ml superior stock
Superior Stock Ingredients:
1 mother hen
10 pieces chicken feet
300g belly pork
2 litres water
A few pieces of rock sugar
1 tsp chicken powder
1 tsp oyster sauce
A little dark soy sauce
1/2 tbsp corn flour
1 tbsp water
1. Soak dried abalone in water for 8 hours. Clean the abalone.
2. Boil the superior stock ingredients over medium heat for 2 hours.
3. Put 300ml superior stock in a double boiler. Add in abalone. Simmer for 16 hours.
4. Transfer the abalone into a plate.
5. Boil the remaining abalone stock. Add in seasoning and thicken the stock. Pour it over the abalone.
The demand for Chinese dried seafood tends to increase tremendously as the Lunar New Year approaches.
The Chinese Culture is very much entrenched in their food, especially celebrating special occasions like the reunion dinner - the open day of New Year, which is the second day of Lunar New Year - Low Shang on the seventh day - The Hokkien New Year on the ninth day - Chap Go Mei on the fifteenth day. The Chinese custom emphasizes heavily on serving good food during happy occasions.
In Fact, the demand for Chinese dried seafood tends to increase tremendously as the Lunar New Year approaches. Dried seafood such as abalones, sharksfin, sea cucumbers, scallops and dried oysters were for the elite in the olden days. However, there is a change in the contemporary trend whereby restaurants promote abalones dishes as their signature dish. Among the popular dishes are the Monk Jumps Over The Wall, Sharksfin set meal and dried abalones set meal. These dishes are becoming more popular and common.
Besides the abalones' excquisite taste, what is the reason that causes its popularity?
Abalones are categorized as a type of soft-shelled creature. They are mainly found in the seas of Japan, South Africa, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. An abalone contains lots of protein and vitamin A. It helps to improve the kidneys' condition and one's eyesight. If Chinese herbs are combined together, it brings lots of good health.
The Alisan brand abalones are found in the seas of Mexico. The processed abalones maintain a springy texture, which is most suitable to be eaten raw or to go along with chilli sauce or oyster sauce.
The Skylight brand abalones are found in the seas of Australia and New Zealand. The abalone hunters usually capture these creatures during the night time and processed them into canned abalones within five hours, before 10 a.m. These canned abalones are famous for its unique sweetness and smooth texture.
Abalones should not be eaten on empty stomachs as this will eliminates its goodness. Abalones are able to revive one's energy level too.
Recipe 2: Abalone Delicacies
200g Skylight brand abalone
10 fresh asparagus stalks
200g medium-sized prawns
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp corn flour
1 cup superior stock
1. Shell and clean prawns. Mince it. Add in a little salt and sugar. Mix well to form a paste. Add in corn flour. Set aside.
2. Place thinly sliced abalone onto a plate. Spread some corn flour on top.
3. Trim asparagus to 4 inches from tip. Blanch in boiling water. Dish up and plunge into cold water. Drain and set aside.
4. Spread a layer of prawn paste (about 20g each) onto abalone. Roll around each aparagus spear.
5. Steam over high heat. Thicken superior stock to form a sauce with corn flour. Pour over abalone asparagus spears.