Fresh, frozen or dried, abalones define delicacy. Between limited distribution, harvest limits and fishing permissions -- almost all abalone fishing is restricted to free-diving -- abalones rank up there with bird's nests and shark fins when it comes to luxury ingredients. Unlike frozen and fresh abalones, you have to braise dried abalones after reconstituting them. You don't want to devalue dried abalones by using sloppy technique or skimping on ingredients, either. To make the most of your find, make the effort to procure some Chinese superior broth and huangjiu rice wine to bring the abalones to the apex of flavor.
Place the dried abalones in a food container and cover them with a few inches of fish stock or dashi. Reconstitute the abalones for three days in the refrigerator, changing the stock out once a day.
Drain the abalones and discard the stock. Scrub the crevices and the folds along the side of the abalones under cool running water using a nylon brush, then use your fingers to clean away any remaining grit.
Slice through the membrane that encircles the abalones and connects the hanging, greenish viscera and intestines to them. Discard the intestines and viscera.
Blanch the abalones for 15 minutes in equal parts dry white wine and water. Rinse the abalones under cold running water for a few minutes.
Place the abalones in a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven. Add enough rice wine and superior broth -- in equal parts -- to cover the abalones by a few inches.
Season the broth with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per cup.
Add about 1/2 cup of rice vinegar to the broth to help tenderize the abalones.
Add aromatics to the broth. Star anise, chili peppers, lemongrass, Szechuan peppercorns, garlic and ginger all work with abalones. Place the pot on the stove and adjust the heat so the broth barely simmers, or around 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Simmer the abalones until tender, 8 to 10 hours for a palm-sized abalones. Tender, fully-cooked abalones still have a springy feel to them, like the cartilage at the tip of your nose, but you can still cut them with the side of a fork.
Take the abalones out of the broth and set them aside. Take the aromatics out of the broth.
Season the broth to taste with soy sauce or salt and bring it to a strong simmer. Simmer the sauce until it reduces and coats the back of a spoon, about 20 minutes.
Add finishing ingredients to the sauce, such as freshly chopped coriander, enoki mushrooms, sesame oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Return the abalones to the sauce.
Simmer the abalones until heated through, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve the abalones with the sauce.
- Superior broth consists of chicken broth, pork broth and Jinhua ham broth that was made simultaneously in the same pot. You can find superior broth and shaoxing or huangjiu wine (also spelled "angciu") at Asian markets -- probably the same one you found dried abalones.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.