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Monday 23 February 2015

Braised abalone with dried scallops, recipe and how to clean and prep fresh/frozen abalone

Last Christmas, I had splurged and bought a bunch of flash frozen fresh abalone on the half shell.  Did a lot of reading up on how to make them as well as asking local chefs since these buggers are expensive.  I was planning to braise them, and was told while the dried abalone is easier to work with and imparts a more intense savory unami flavor, it would take days to braise, while the fresh abalone only takes minutes to cook and has a lighter fresh from the ocean briney unami flavor.  Abalone is a prized mollusc for its thick, meaty and deliciously savory flavor that is simular to geoduck.  Its texture after braising is similar to a thick slice of cooked portabello mushroom, but with a deep earthy shellfish flavor.  You can steam them, slice them thin and fry them, but I'm planning to braise them :) Anyhoos, here goes with a step by step of how to clean and prep fresh/frozen abalone on the half shell...
First off, being in landlocked Alberta, only flash frozen abalone or the dried variety was available.  If you're lucky to live closer to the coast (or by/in Australia where they scoop some of the best fresh abalone in the world), do keep in mind they only last a few days so cook them quick after you pick them up.  I defrosted mine overnight in the fridge... some were still partially frozen, but they got lots of rinsing as I cleaned them so they finished defrosting during that process.

Step 1: Gently remove the abalone from the half shell
The abalone is only held to the shell by a bit of muscle. You can pry it gently free with your hands (I found the easiest), a spoon (this blew up the poo sac a lot.. more on that in a bit), or with a small knife (I left bits of abalone meat on the shell oops).  Feel free to do this under running cool water from the tap as its really helpful in rinsing off dirty bits

If you want to keep the pretty shells as soap dishes, make sure they're clean of all meat, run them through the dishwasher, or boil them for 5-10 min to make sure they're clean before you do artsy stuff with them. Me, being not the artsy type... all dem purty shells promptly found a home in my garbage bin.

Step 2: Remove the poop sac. Trim off the mouth. Rinse. Rinse. Rinse.
Gently pull off the dark grey/green/black softy squishy blob and discard.. it holds all the abalone organs and poo, and if you're too rough it explodes open to leak everywhere... running tap definitely came in handy for a few that leaked open. Do not attempt to cook it, it is not edible.. and really,why do you want to eat a poop sac?!  Using a small knife, cut off and discard the mouth - its the dark black tip on the abalone where the poop sac attaches to the meat.

Can see the "mouth" there the hole is by my left fingertips
Step 3: Wash wash wash well
There's a few ways to do this - all of them hotly debated as to which method strips flavor/ cleans them the best. Since I was making this for family to eat, I wanted them to look nice and really, abalone is so flavorful, I doubt any cleaning method could strip a significant amount of flavor away. Do clean using at least one of the methods below (or all 3) as they are filter feeders and they are pretty grimy!
a) Scrub well with a brand new toothbrush
I understood why immediately... the abalone may look clean, but the toothbrush immediately turned grey as I scrubbed the suckers.  But they didn't look super clean after, so I tried out the other methods

b) Scrub well with lots of salt and brand new toothbrush
This worked much better than just using a toothbrush alone as the dry salt acted as an abrasive to clear out deeper embedded grime.  Hahaha.. I was giving my food an exfoliating scrub. Rinse well after to get rid of the salt.  Still not looking as clean as I wanted

c) Scrub well with lots of baking soda
After the salt scrub, a light scrub with a bit of baking soda really removed the rest of the grayish grime and they looked a lot better nice and clean! Now they're ready for cooking!

Forgot to take a picture of the finished product before everyone dug into them.  Note - fresh/frozen abalone shrink to half or more of its original uncooked size, while dried abalone retains its size throughout cooking... so be prepared to see the fresh ones shown in my pics that were finger tip length super shrink to a small mouthful.

Braised abalone with dried scallops recipe - can use fresh, frozen or dried abalone!
1 cup homemade chicken and pork stock (you can use commercial stock, but its worth it to make your own)
*12 fresh/frozen abalone, cleaned
12 dried scallops, rehydrated in 1 cup water or stock in the fridge overnight the night before, reserve liquid
3 slices of fresh ginger root, about one inch long
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 green onions, sliced, white and green parts separated
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon white wine or brandy or Chinese cooking wine
1 teaspoon cornstarch+ 2 tablespoons stock
salt and pepper to taste
*If using dried abalone, scrub well, increase stock to 6 cups, and toss everything into a slow cooker on low for 3-4 days until tender.
**optional: 1 tablespoon abalone sauce available in Chinese grocery stores

How to
1) The night before, soak the dried scallops in 1 cup water or stock and leave in the fridge overnight - if you don't soak them, they take forever to cook. Defrost your abalone in the fridge overnight if using frozen product
2) Prep and wash the abalone about 30min prior to when you plan on cooking them - they take a good while to scrub clean
3) Using a wok or deep frying pan, heat oil on medium high heat, add garlic, ginger and white part of green onion. Sauté for a minute until oil is fragrant. Add in cleaned abalone, toss. Gently mix in all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil.
4) Lower heat and simmer for 6 min for medium  abalone (about size of a large egg), up to 10 minutes for larger abalone. If the sauce thickens too much, add in some of the reserved scallop liquid.
5) Season to taste, add in abalone sauce if using, garnish with green parts of green onion.

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