In the garden, they are an annoying pest; to the French, they are a delicacy when smothered in garlic, wine and butter and cooked to a frothy boil; and to me, they can be an exciting seafood appetizer or entrée. We are talking about snails and, in particular, the “Escargot of the Sea.”
Courtesy of Sunset Magazine, I learned that abalone is an edible marine gastropod, or sea snail, and not a shellfish, like an oyster, as I always assumed. Regardless of its genealogy, I hold abalone in the highest regard. Whether served in a myriad of ways at Anton & Michel Restaurant in Carmel, or on a pizza at Farmstand 46 in Paso Robles, it is always a special treat. Perhaps that is because it is relatively scarce and therefore very expensive. As a Black Belt Culinary Diva, I am lured to exclusive, costly products like a moth to a flame. But whereas caviar is an acquired taste, abalone should appeal to all.
|Not the way to obtain Abalone|
"A Day of Fishing" by Ray Roberts
|Also not an effective way to search out Abalone|
California strictly regulates the harvesting of abalone. Only the red abalone can be acquired in the wild and not by those using an artificial breathing apparatus. Plus a properly permitted person can only have possession of three red abalone at one time. So almost all the abalone we consume is farm raised in conditions that mimic to the extent possible the abalone’s natural environment. Hence the high cost. When I sent my unsuspecting companion to Jensen’s for abalone the other night, he returned with four small, frozen filets. Since he had done a week’s shopping, he did not realize--until I foolishly inquired--that those four small pieces of abalone cost $71! My punishment was a heaping serving of cold shoulder and tongue.
|Four Abalone Filets ready for dusting|
The fleshy but firm texture of an abalone filet makes it perfect for simple sautéing. The flavor of the abalone is mild, so one must be careful not to overpower its sweet and delicate flavor.
|Dusting the Filets|
|Sauteing the Abalone|
The following recipe makes a great first course to a meal. It is prepared in minutes and should be served immediately. It will pair nicely with a good Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc. We enjoyed ours with a Negroni as Campari is a digestive and is thought to enhance and open your taste buds. Whether it did so or not, it was a fine accompaniment to the sautéed abalone filets.
Simple Sautéed Abalone
4 Abalone Filets
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 turns of freshly ground pepper
1 generous pinch of salt
1 generous pinch of fennel pollen (not required but worth it)
2 tablespoons butter
Leafy green lettuce
Mix flour, pepper, salt and fennel pollen together. Coat abalone filets with flour mixture and shake to remove excess.
Melt butter in skillet on medium high heat. Place two abalone filets in at a time (unless you are using a very large sauté pan; just don’t crowd the abalone filets). Let cook for 60-90 seconds per side. Place on plate and serve immediately with lemon!
If your local market does not carry abalone filets, you can purchase them online or take a quick trip to the coast. To make the overnight shipping more affordable, enlist a couple friends and split the order and cost of shipping.