Abalone is a gastropod with one bowl-shaped shell that has a beautiful mother-of-pearl interior. They resemble a large snail or slug, and have a tender texture similar to a cooked shiitake mushroom. Their flavor is very delicate and extremely delicious. Abalone can be cooked in a variety of ways; sauteed in garlic butter like escargot, stir-fried, cooked in soups, or served with various sauces. It needs to be cooked quickly as overcooking it will make the texture tough and chewy.
Wild abalone were once plentiful on the California coast, but over harvesting lead to a demise in abalone populations. Diving for wild abalone is strictly controlled; not only do you need a license, but you aren't allowed to use any breathing apparatus while diving for abalone. While wild abalone continues to be an endangered species, farmed abalone is much more sustainable and is approved by seafood watch programs.
The people at American Abalone were very helpful and friendly. They were offering a "buy 10, get 1 free" special, so we decided to go with 4 frozen and 7 fresh abalone. They demonstrated to us how to remove the abalone from the shell with a butter knife, and packaged the live ones on a special salt water-soaked foam pad. This was then placed in a plastic bag that was filled with gas; the abalone can survive in this environment for 48 hours. The plastic bag is not to be opened until you are ready to prepare your abalone.
Davenport is a hour and half drive south of San Francisco, down the scenic Coast Highway. Going shopping for fresh abalone was an excellent Saturday morning activity and now we are the proud owners of 4 frozen abalone. What happened to the 7 fresh ones? Well, we ate them this evening, and will be discussing that in another post ... stay tuned!
(Images: Kathryn Hill)