During the winter months for the last two years I started noticing fresh frozen abalones for sale in New York City’s Chinatown. A few fishmongers display mounds of these large solidly frozen mollusks. I was curious where these abalones come from. Unfortunately most of the shopkeepers were not able to enlighten me. However one person suggested Australia, which is plausible since abalone farming has become very successful there. This success has made abalone a sustainable ingredient. So this year when I was planning our Chinese New Year family celebration I did not hesitate to include some of these beautiful abalones for the Hakka dish DaPenCai.
DaPenCai (大盆菜), literally translated as “big basin meal,” consists of many individual dishes presented in layers in one large platter. The individual dishes often include abalones, sea cucumbers, prawns, scallops, chicken, duck feet and other delicacies. Traditionally it is served among the Hakka families on the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year to mark the end of the holiday. DaPenCai is now served at anytime during the fifteen-day period of New Year festivities, and also throughout the rest of the year.
This year my family’s Chinese New Year dinner banquet celebrates Hakka (客家) and ChaoZhou (潮州) cuisines, so I’ve included DaPenCai as one of the courses. The Hakka people migrated to southern Chinese coastline after escaping political persecution in the north. They eventually settled around northern Guangdong and southern Fujian provinces right near the ChaoZhou area. Overtime their cooking traditions influenced each other and they now utilize many similar ingredients and techniques.
In my plan for the DaPenCai I included Braised Abalone (原汁燜鮑魚) as one of the items. This version I’m making is an uncomplicated braising of the mollusk in a soy sauce based liquid. I’m also using pork and chicken, as is traditional, to create the rich umami that flavors the abalone.
Abalone is available in the market live, fresh frozen, canned and dried. For many years the dried and canned varieties were the only ones available. Now with so many choices which one makes the best braised abalone? I used to consider the reconstituted dried abalone to be the best because of their deeper richer flavor. But I now believe fresh abalones, whether live or frozen, are the best choice. Their texture is tender and they produce a fresh delicate flavor.
I will publish the full banquet menu in the next post. But here is the recipe for Braised Abalone. Enjoy the recipe and Happy New Year!
Braised Abalone (原汁燜鮑魚)
- Preparation time: 30 minutes
- Slow cooking time: 3 hours 30 minutes
- 1 1/2 lb. fresh abalone or 3/4 lb. dried abalone
- 1/2 lb. lean pork
- 1 lb. or 1/2 chicken
- 1 inch length of ginger root
- 4 scallion
- 4 whole cilantro plant with roots if possible
- 1 cup Shaoxing cooking wine
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- For frozen abalones be sure to completely thaw them in the refrigerator before cleaning the black film on the sides and bottom by scrubbing with a clean kitchen brush. Or if you have live fresh abalones you can learn how to clean them at About.com. If you’re using dried abalones then soak them in clean water for twenty-four hours at room temperature. Replace with fresh water every six hours or so. Canned abalones they can be used directly out of the can.
- Line the bottom of a wok or large clay pot with a lattice bamboo mat specifically designed for braising delicate seafood. Arrange the abalones right on the mat then cover them with the scallion, ginger and cilantro. Place the pork and chicken on top of everything else. Finally pour the cooking wine, light soy sauce, sugar and chicken stock into the wok. Heat until the liquid starts to boil.
- Turn down the heat and simmer covered over very low heat. Skim off any scum that forms on top of the liquid. Cook for about three hours. Be sure to check the liquid level making sure the abalones do not get burnt.
- After three hours there should only be about two cups of liquid left. Turn the heat off and remove and discard all the sold ingredients except the abalones. Remove the abalones and set aside reserving the braising liquid after straining it through a fine sieve.
- Reduce the braising liquid to about one cup by heating over moderate heat. Thicken the sauce with a slurry of 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1/3 cup water.
- Return the abalones to the wok and simmer for another minute or so. Serve the abalones hot with the sauce over them.