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Deana McAuley and I had the opportunity to tour The Cultured Abalone facility only a few weeks ago. Taking advantage of the technology developed by the state, my friend Dick Craig managed to put together a business plan to build an abalone production facility in Santa Barbara. He partnered with the landowner, and the operation began. This operation is literally growing millions of red abalone ranging in size from microscopic to about 5 inches in length. Fresh seawater is pumped through the facility via an intake pipe that extends about 1/2 mile into the ocean. Shaded growing tanks occupy well over an acre in area.
According to Dick, this operation is finally becoming profitable. It takes about 3 to 5 years to grow an abalone to a marketable size. Most of their abalone is exported to Japan, at a size of 3-1/2 inches, where abalone is very popular as sushi. A smaller proportion is sold to local processors and distributors who supply restaurants with abalone steaks. Dick notes that there is an increasing demand for larger animals that more closely resemble wild abalone. The Cultured Abalone sells abalone in the shell at wholesale prices ranging from $15 to $18 per pound, depending on size. The actual yield is about 40% meat after processing. Although this isn't cheap by any means, at least consumers have the opportunity to eat abalone without impacting what little remains of the wild stock.
I asked Dick if he had ever considered marketing abalone directly to consumers. During the initial downturn in the economy, he had considered this, however during the past year their operation is barely keeping up with demand. Consequently, they continue to expand the operation adding more and more tanks to grow abalone to a larger size. Dick did say, however, that if there were a processor capable of purchasing abalone in batches of 10 pounds or more, that they could process and ship steaks directly to customers. During the course of the coming year, I will be looking into the feasability of doing this so that the readers of Seasoned Cooking can order abalone online and have frozen processed steaks shipped to their door within 2 days. I will keep readers posted.
Needless to say, I had to purchase some abalone for dinner. I prepared steaks and cooked them using the recipe below.
The recipes presented this month are from my yet to be published cookbook, Phil's Family and Friends Cookbook. Feel free to email me at with your comments and requests. Be well, and good eating!
Now, on to the recipes!
Abalone steaks must be tenderized prior to cooking. If you are able to purchase processed steaks, they will already be tenderized. If you need to tenderize abalone yourself, it is quite simple with the right tools. A large mallet is best for tenderizing abalone. Place the raw steak on a cutting board or other hard surface and strike the steak sharply with the mallet, once on each side. This will shock the muscle into relaxing. It will be very tender if not overcooked.
If you happen to procure whole abalone and pound your own steaks, the trimmings can be used for making a delicious chowder. Or, grind the trimmings with scallops to make scalone (see below).
4 abalone steaks, pounded
2 Tbsp. butter
Melt the butter in a skillet over very low heat. Once the butter is warm, place the abalone steaks in the skillet, turning after 15 seconds. Simmer for an additional 15 seconds on the other side and remove from heat immediately. Serve warm. Do not overcook, or your abalone will have the consistency of shoe leather!
Optionally, you may coat the steaks with bread or cracker crumbs prior to cooking. Some people like to dip the steak into an egg batter prior to cooking. Abalone has a very mild flavor, yet is very rich. In my opinion, little or no seasoning is best.
I served our abalone steaks with salad and asparagus.
Yields: 4 servings
Preparation Time: 1 minute
I prefer to tenderize abalone before using it as sushi. Even tenderized, raw abalone will be a bit on the chewy side. However, it is absolutely delicious!
1 whole abalone, about 1/4 lb. without the shell
Slice tenderized abalone into pieces about 1 inch wide by 2 inches long. Place over a finger sized portion of sushi rice and wrap with a strip of dried seaweed. Serve with wasabi and soy sauce.
Yields: 8 servings
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Scalone is a mixture of scallops and abalone. Equal parts of both are ground together in a meat grinder to a consistency similar to hamburger. A butcher can do this for you if you don't have a meat grinder. This is a good way to stretch that expensive abalone into a dish that can serve several people. Grinding also minimizes the waste and assures that the abalone will be tender, even if it is overcooked a little bit.
1/2 lb. abalone
1/2 lb. fresh scallops
bread or cracker crumbs
1 egg white
Form the ground abalone/scallop mixture into patties about the size of a hamburger. Brush each patty with egg white and sprinkle with bread or cracker crumbs on both sides. Ritz crackers work well. Salt and pepper to taste. Place each patty into a buttered skillet and simmer for about 1 to 2 minutes each side over medium heat, or until slightly golden brown. Serve promptly and enjoy!