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You might’ve heard of abalone if you relish exquisite seafood cuisines. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it’s one of the world’s most expensive seafood. We’re not kidding; a single abalone can cost up to $50.
Abalone meat is such a delicacy that it’s a highly sought-after black market commodity. Rising demands and illegal fishing have dwindled the wild abalone populations. However, now it lands on your plate via aquaculture. If you’re considering farming it, just know that getting the license won’t be a walk in the park.
So what does Abalone taste like? Are there any varieties available, and can you cook them at home? Loads of questions come attached to it. But, most importantly, if you’re hearing of it for the first time, what is abalone?
Let’s dive into this article and find out.
What is abalone?
Abalone is a coastal saltwater mollusk belonging to the Haliotidae family. You can call it a sea snail. Unlike bi-valved land snails, abalone has a shell on one side of the body. The other side sticks to rocks and feeds on algae.
On the outside, the abalone shell looks mundane enough that you may disregard it as a rock. However, the real beauty lies in its iridescent insides, which make fast-selling, gorgeous shell jewelry and decorations. The shell's unique shape has also granted abalone other names such as ear shells or sea ears.
Abalone used to be widely available on the US West Coast. However, overfishing became the enemy, significantly reducing the natural population. Unfortunately, wild abalone also has a low survival rate. Although it produces millions of eggs, most perish either due to high-temperature stress or by predators. So we turn to aquatic farming to fulfill 95% of our needs.
So, who is farming Abalone?
The FOA says China is the global leader in abalone farming with a massive annual amount of 10,000 metric tons. However, it consumes 90% of it due to its cultural popularity, so not much is left for us. That's why you may have to get it from Korea, Australia, or even some local American farms.
The creature may look alien-like, but its taste is a chef's kiss.
What does abalone taste like?
Abalone eaters place their unique taste somewhere between a scallop and squid. However, devouring the squishy yet crunchy flesh may be close to eating a jellyfish.
Does abalone have taste? Yes, it has a distinct salty taste thanks to its saltwater habitat. To add more, abalone has a rich, creamy, buttery flavor with a hint of sweetness. Finally, the addition of umami makes it a bursting tasteful package deal.
Due to its taste, some call it 'sea butter' packing sea salt and a creamy texture.
You might feel like it has a fishy taste, but that’s primarily associated with old abalone. Ensure you're getting high-quality fresh abalone to avoid the pungent fishy whiff and taste.
Some people say abalone has a chewiness like a calamari steak. However, it's the good kind, and you'll savor it. The chewy texture depends on how long you're cooking it.
Hear it from Chef Tim Butler, who has marked abalone his new favorite ingredient!
How to cook abaolone
Eating abalone can be a fine dining experience or a cultural present, depending on what you’re in the mood for.
In traditional Chinese and Indigenous cultures, Abalone is consumed raw, and it still tastes fantastic. But first, you need some preparation.
To begin with, you'll need to shuck the meat off gently. A flat wooden spatula or a short-bladder knife can be a handy tool. Slide it between the shell and the flesh until the shell detaches.
Next comes the tricky part of removing the viscera, commonly known as guts. In a seemingly gruesome but easy manner, hold the abalone flesh and let the guts hang down. Then you can cut it off.
Don't forget the essential step of washing it thoroughly.
Lastly, you have to cut off the blackish stuff on its sides. Fresh abalone comes with this iggy stuff which is totally edible but tastes bitter.
You can also scrub it off, but that might take longer. If you want to relish the soft flesh entirely, we suggest cutting off the stiff shell lips.
Eating raw abalone
If you’re up for eating it raw, thinly slice abalone and enjoy it with soy sauce, wasabi, or a squeeze of lemon.
The traditional Japanese sashimi adds a little touch of shiso leaves. It involves an extensive skillful procedure of cross-hatching the abalone flesh in a splendid fancy meal.
First, you'll need to tenderize it by pounding it as thick-cut steaks or as a whole. Thinly sliced or minced abalone would also do the trick. Furthermore, you can cook it long and slow to tenderize it.
We’ve brought you many ways, each just as good as the previous one:
Here’s a great starting idea: enjoy its smoked natural flavor by grilling. First thing first, marinate it with butter and minced garlic to bless your taste buds even more. You may also use vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, and mango juice.
However, it's best to keep the additional ingredients to a minimum. Abalone meat quickly takes on other flavors which may overpower your meal.
Put it on skewers for a scrumptious BBQ or grill it as a mouthwatering steak.
Pan-frying abalone is another popular way of cooking it. Japanese fry it in just butter and soy sauce to best enjoy its natural buttery flavor. Fry it on medium or high heat until it's golden for that satisfying crunch.
Western regions coat it with flour, salt, and pepper, then deep fry it. Lastly, garnish it with lemon and treat yourself to a fancy homemade snack.
Boing Vs Braising
The easiest way to eat abalone with its shell is to steam it. But, first, clean the exterior extensively and remove the guts.
Want to take it up a notch? Mix sautéed garlic, cooking wine, sugar, oyster sauce, or seafood sauce. Pour this mixture over abalone and boil it for 5 to 6 minutes. Serve it with blanched vermicelli, and you have a great main dish to impress your guests.
Chinese methods include braising abalone in stock to give a good kick to its taste. They probably do it the best by utilizing oyster sauce, rice wine, ginger, and garlic to flavor the chicken stock. Then fresh abalone and shiitake mushrooms are braised to treat your tastebuds with a mouth-watering dinner.
So, we’ve seen the variety in cooking; what about the creature itself? How many varieties of Abalone are there? Well, it includes more than a hundred species worldwide; however, 35 are used in food. Most commonly, the types include black, white, pink, red, green, and pinto.
It is the largest of them all, growing up to a foot long. This variety is the food industry’s favorite. Mainly because the others have become incredibly rare. The stunning red abalone had a booming natural population in the Californian waters; however, it soon dwindled due to overfishing.
White abalone is well-known for its tender meat. We call it the crème de la crème of abalone because it’s more flavorsome than other types. But unfortunately, the demand reduced its population so significantly that now it's an endangered species. In fact, it was the first marine invertebrate to earn federal protection in 2001.
Black abalone is yet another critically endangered species earning the status in 2009. Additionally, fishing for it has been illegal since 1993.
It is threatened by high temperatures, poachers, oil spills, and withering syndrome.
This species was the majority of American abalone fisheries in the early 1950s. However, it's more fragile than its other family members and grows more slowly.
Green abalone's color varies from bright green to a dull greenish-brown. The species peaked in 1971 but quickly declined due to withering syndrome and extensive fishing. Its vibrant green shell is famously used in ornaments and jewelry.
Is abalone healthy?
Most seafood is generally considered healthy due to various vital nutrients. So is Abalone healthy? Yes, it is.
Abalone contains essential proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and low harmful fats, making it one incredibly nutritious food.
Take it from various Indigenous cultures using abalone as a functional food for years. It is known to have anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, antioxidant, and anticancer compounds making it a super healthy food.
To further make you believe it, various health benefits are listed below:
Rich in iodine - Abalone is a rich, natural iodine source making it a great menu addition to preventing iodine deficiency. Sadly, one-third of the world’s population is on the verge of being iodine deficient, so, better to eat Abalone to keep it away. However, given how it can cost you an arm and a leg, it can be challenging to make everyday.
Additionally, iodine is highly beneficial for thyroid function, so eating Abalone can regulate your thyroid hormones.
Enhances immune system - It is also an excellent source of Selenium, so it can help you boost your immunity. Selenium activates the body’s antioxidant compounds, which help enhance the immune system.
Abalone may hurt your wallet, but it won’t hurt your health.
Protects bone health - Furthermore, the calcium and potassium in the prized shellfish can work wonders for your bones. Both are key components of bones and increase bone mass. They keep the bones healthy, so you can run to get another delicious round of Abalone.
Prevents joint pain - In addition to making your bones a knight in shining armor, Abalone has a unique compound called Glycosaminoglycans. This compound promotes healthy joints, so you won’t have to worry about joint pain at a young age.
Reduces cardiovascular risk - The anti-inflammatory properties brought by omega 3-fatty acids give multiple benefits. First, it decreases blood pressure and lowers fat levels. That can vastly reduce the risk of heart diseases and protect your vessels from fat accumulation.
Additionally, unlike other seafood, Abalone has low cholesterol levels meaning your cardiovascular system functions safely.
Cancer prevention - Moreover, recent research has been impressed by the role of abalone in cancer prevention and treatments. It induces the death of cancer cells and inhibits tumor growth, making it a valuable food in cancer studies.
Lastly, abalone may have a risk of toxins causing food poisoning. Such toxic marine foods may taste sharp, although they look perfectly normal. To avoid it, it should be consumed fresh or frozen immediately after being caught. Remember that cooking, freezing, canning, or smoking won’t make it safe to consume again.
Thankfully, food poisoning or allergies are pretty rare with Abalone.
Abalone might put a dent in your wallets but it’s a must-have if you’re a foodie. This prized seafood can make for a luxurious dinner and you deserve such a treat once in a while. Rest easy as it is just as beneficial as it is delicious.
Have it in the time-tested traditional fashion or the intricate ways modern chefs are experimenting with. We’re sure the delectable abalone flesh paired with rich spices and herbs won’t disappoint you.
If you haven’t tried Abalone before, try it now and thank us later.