Monday, October 8, 2012

Northern California Abalone Adventure


Since I was a little boy I have been enthralled with all things having to do with the sea and the air.  I believe my culinary fire was sparked when I started harvesting creatures from the sea at a young age.  When I was ten years old, my cousin and I had the experience of a lifetime.  We were left alone on Catalina Island, just off the coast of Los Angeles, California, aboard a thirty-two foot sailboat for two days without any adult supervision.  I can almost hear the horrified gasps of some of you reading that last couple of sentences, but growing up in an era without today's technological advances made me more self-sufficient and really shaped my adolescent years.  We had a small dingy, a spear gun, and a fishing pole.  We ate what we caught, and I had the most fun a ten year old could have.  On that trip, a deep rooted respect for the ocean and its creatures began for me.  I have since furthered my quest to honor the ocean and its bounty by preparing it to the best of my ability.  Spearfishing and harvesting food from the ocean are still a huge part of my life, and my quest for knowledge about cooking them is insatiable.  Abalone is the topic of this article and one that is very dear to me.  For me, Abalone trips take place about once a year.  The drive alone to get to them is about twelve hours one way.  In California, Abalone are only legal to take north of San Fransisco.  You can only take them by free diving which means you are limited to breath hold only, no Scuba Tanks allowed, and the average water temp is around fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  Oh, and did I forget to mention the White Shark population is very large?!  The best part of these trips is being with like minded individuals who are serious about free diving, respect for the ocean, and the love and camaraderie that food creates.          
Tom Chung and I getting into the 50 degree Nor Cal Waters
My brother (left) and I after a dive with our daily limit of tasty Red Abalone
One Daily Limit of 3 Red Abalone
   Abalone are very good eating, and live on and around rocky reefs.  They have a protective outer shell and the underside is one very strong solid foot.  Some people say it's like eating shoe leather as the meat is very tough.  To those people I say too bad for you!  Prepared with some care and a little bit of effort it is most definitely a rare ocean delicacy.
Preparing fresh Abalone Sashimi 
Fresh Red Abalone Sashimi and Fresh California Yellow Tail Sashimi taken free diving with a spear gun by Ken Okutake, Check out Ken's Amazing gyotaku fish prints at
Fresh Asian inspired Abalone Salad with Chili and Mint

Traditional preparation sliced, pounded thin, breaded and fried
This is the favored preparation by my Chinese friends.  It is stewed for 24 hours until it's fork tender

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