Best Methods for Preparing the Scarcest Snails of the Sea
Regulation and overfishing have made abalone a prized catch and contributed heavily to its exorbitant price and market rarity: One pound of dried abalone costs well over $300, and purveyors are few and far between. After you reconstitute abalone, you can use just about any method to cook it, but you might want to consider braising to get your money's worth.
Abalone's flavor doesn't really "pop"; it has a touch of butteriness and a natural saline quality from seawater, but nothing out of this world. That said, you want to make the most of your investment, and braising gives you the most bang for the buck. Braising ultimately imparts the utmost depth of flavor to the relatively neutral abalone. Whether you braise, grill or sauté your abalone, you first have to give it a lengthy soaking and scrubbing.
Soak the abalone in cold water for 24 hours. No need to change out the water, just let the abalone soak in the fridge for at least 24 hours, and then drain it.
Scrub the abalone. Using a stiff shellfish brush, scrub the abalone under cool running water until its free of debris.
Boil the abalone for 15 minutes. After boiling, let the abalone sit in the water until it cools to room temperature.
Scrub and soak the abalone a second time. Scrub the abalone again to remove the impurities brought out during boiling. Cover the abalone in cold water and soak it in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Reserve this water if you plan on braising the abalone.
Start with a rich, flavorful broth. A mix of chicken and pork stock works, but for something as rare as abalone, nothing competes with supreme stock. Made from pork spare ribs, trotters, stewing hen, Chinese ham, dried shiitake mushrooms and aromatics, supreme stock has a near gravy-like consistency and flavor you could serve as a meal on its own, and you don't even have to make it separately.
To braise abalone in supreme stock, add 2 pounds of of spare ribs to the bottom of a Dutch oven. Lay the abalone in an even layer on the spare ribs and top the abalone with around 2 pounds of skin-on stewing chicken pieces.
Add a small piece of smashed ginger, 3 or 4 smashed garlic cloves, 1 pound of diced Chinese (or Virginia) ham, a few scallions, a few black peppercorns, a dried shiitake mushroom and about 1/4 cup of Shaoxing wine to the pot. Add the reserved water along with enough fresh water to cover everything. Simmer 10 for 12 hours, seasoning to taste during cooking as needed. Discard the aromatics, and reserve the stock, chicken and pork for another use.
Grilling and Sautéing
You can grill or sauté abalone, but you still have to simmer it for about 10 hours to tenderize it first. You don't have to go to the extent of preparing a supreme stock, but you should use a flavorful chicken or pork broth along with a few aromatics, such as onions, garlic and ginger.
Grill whole abalone just until heated through and grill-marked, about 2 minutes on each side. Alternatively, slice the abalone into 1/4-inch-thick strips, thread onto skewers and grill for about 2 minutes.
To sauté abalone, slice it into 1/4-inch-thick strips. Sauté the abalone in a few tablespoons of olive oil until just heated through, about 2 minutes. You can also add it to stir fries at the end of cooking.
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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.