The Friday Feast | 5 July, 2024

The Symposium Edition: abalone, and all things gastronomy.

Folks, the 25th Symposium of Australian Gastronomy is upon us. After 18 months of planning and preparation, it all kicks off tonight. We’re welcoming gastronomers and passionate foodie-types from around the nation, the Pacific, and further afield still. In honour of this auspicious event, we simply had to dedicate this edition of the Friday Feast to the year’s premier gastronomic event. One of the core tenets of the Symposium is abalone. Thus, the following treatise.

Abalone in principle

Gastronauts! Join us in our pristine coastal waters, where the palawa and pakana have treasured black-lip and green-lip abalone for millennia. These marine gems are not just a staple in that rich cultural history but have also earned their place as a globally (OK, mainly China, but still) sought-after delicacy. Unfortunately, our first-nations brothers and sisters have seen nothing of the wealth generated by this over the years. This is changing, thankfully. Further, we have one of the architects of that change with us this very weekend. Whether you’re a seasoned seafood lover or a curious newbie, here are a few ways to prepare these iconic shellfish.

First up, a simple sauté. The old-skool will argue that this is the best way to appreciate abalone. It is quick and easy, and moreover, it puts the unique, lingering umami of the meat right to the front.

Start by carefully cleaning your abalone, removing the meat from the shell, peeling away the viscera, and trimming off any tough bits. Slice the abalone into thin, even pieces. Then, heat a generous amount of butter in a cast-iron pan over a medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted and started to bubble, add a little sliced garlic, and sauté until fragrant. Add the abalone slices to the pan and sauté for about about a minute, no more! Be careful not to overcook the slices. Abalone gets spectacularly tough if overcooked. Season with a little white pepper and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Serve immediately straight from the pan.

Look, is the garlic necessary? Probably not, here. It is optional, but trust us, even the crusted old-salts go for this. You’d be amazed at the hidden little corners of sketchy-lookin’ boats in which we’ve tracked down garlic.

In practice

Charcoal and abalone are besties. For those who love the charred, smoky flavours of fire grilling, grilled abalone with herb butter is a must-try. Clean and prepare the abalone as described above. But, this time, make your slices a little thicker, say, 5mm. Create herb butter by mixing softened butter with chopped fresh herbs (think parsley, chives, thyme – or your favourite combo), plus lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Get your charcoal running hot, like, proper hot. Give your abalone slices a little toss is a tiny bit of veg oil. Then, put the slices onto your hot grill/grill plate and cook hard and briefly. Remove and then put a drop of butter on each slice, letting it melt and coat the meat. The combo of rich grilled smokiness and fresh, fatty, herby butter coating is one for the books.

OK, you’re thinking, slice thin, cook quick, lemon. That’s pretty much all there is to abalone, right? Wrong.

Advanced Abalone Fare

Let’s talk congee. This is elite-level abalone-ing. It goes like this.

Turn blonde chicken stock into Chinese master stock. In a pressure cooker, cook two abalone whole, uncleaned, in the shell for about 6 hours. Remove and clean, reserving the meat as well as the light part of the viscera. Freeze one, and refrigerate the other with the “roe”. If the stock has concentrated too much, dilute it. You want 1.5 to 1.8 litres, ish. Make congee with the master stock, probably about 250 to 300 grams of rice for that amount of stock.

To serve, first, dice the refrigerated abalone into 1cm cubes. Then, congee into bowls before topping it with the diced abalone, sliced spring onion, fried onions and black sesame seeds. Now, with the frozen abalone, shave it wafer thin using a mandolin and pile it onto the top, bonito shavings style. It’ll “melt” into the hot congee, becoming ethereal.

No matter how you prepare your Tasmanian abalone, remember that the key is to respect its delicate texture and unique flavour. Treat it with care, and it will reward you with a truly unforgettable flavour experience.

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