The Abalone Farm, Cayucos, California
by Alain Gayot
what's so great about abalone anyway? Considering the cost
and labor involved in raising these marine snails and getting
them ready-to-eat, their culinary value better be worth
the price tag. And, while nearly 80 species exist worldwide,
few are of the best edible varieties that will find their
way onto sushi bar menus and restaurant dining tables.
are at once underappreciated, overharvested, misunderstood
and revered. Their taste and texture are beguiling and delicious
if properly prepared from fresh meat, or even from the right
kind of frozen steak. To top it off, once you've eaten the
abalone meat, you're left with a beautiful shell that's
the source of mother-of-pearl. They also produce pearls,
but it's unlikely that your dinner abalone will be old enough
to bear one to adorn your neck. Beyond their aesthetic and
culinary contributions, abalone are valued for their numerous
medicinal and mineral qualities in traditional and Eastern
medicineand prized as an aphrodisiac in Pacific Rim
you can truly appreciate abalone, venture beyond the velvety
tenderness and succulent flavor to understand the diligence
that landed them on your plate. A drastic decline in abalone
populations forced the California Department of Fish and
Game (DFG) to impose a moratorium on all abalone fishing
south of San Francisco Bay in 1997. The closure of commercial
harvesting resulted in tighter supply and sky-high prices.
In recent years, restrictions have become even more stringent. Now, no abalone may be taken, landed, or possessed from anywhere south of the center of the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Furthermore, new abalone fishing restrictions for areas in Northern California went into effect May 1, 2010. Licensed sport harvesting is allowed north of San
Francisco Bay from April to June and August to November,
but it is bound by restrictions on daily take (three), annual take (a cap of 24) and
species (one, red abalone), collection methods (no SCUBA gear) and
size (no less than seven inches in diameter). (Editor's note: For the latest California abalone regulations, consult www.dfg.ca.gov.)
loss of commercial wild harvesting along California's coast
spawned a generation of shoreside farmers dedicated to keeping
the market awash with abalone. True, abalone can be found
across the globe, from Israel to Australia, but California's
heirloom is Haliotis rufescens the California
Red Abalone one of the most rare and delicious of its
to San Rafael-based Fishtech Abalone Consultants, there
are currently 15 abalone farms on the coast of California.
The oldest and largest in the United States is The Abalone
Farm, Inc., located in the Central Coast beach town of Cayucos.
Founded in 1968 by a group of abalone enthusiasts, the privately
held Abalone Farm tightly controls the entire four-year production
cycle of the California Red Abalone, which is marketed under
the farm's Ocean Rose label.
The four-year cycle of abalone production begins with
microscopic eggs that are carefully collected from select spawners.
The egg-laden seawater is then transferred to a hatching
tank where the diminutive abalone are raised in sterile
laboratory conditions for several weeks. From the hatching
tanks, it's into the nursery tanks and the most critical
phase in their lives, when they are most susceptible to
elevated nitrate levels. Seawater is pumped in at the
rate of six million gallons per day, into tanks that hold more than four million abalone
in various stages of growth, and is monitored around-the-clock.
Their food when they are very young is homegrown red dulce seaweed, which
also causes red rings to develop on the outside of their
shells. As they get older, they eat mainly kelp.
about a year, the abalone reach thumbnail-size and are moved
to a basket area where they feast for the next three years
on giant kelp harvested offshore. Once they have reached
an average market size of 3.5 ounces, the abalone are purged
for three to four days before being shipped to restaurants
and consumers across the country and around the globe. You'll
find live and raw abalone as the centerpiece of awabi
sushi or, perhaps if you're visiting Tokyo, in the Edomae-style salted and steamed female abalone. Salted, fermented
entrails are also enjoyed in the Japanese tottsuru.
Elsewhere, dried abalone has the cachet of shark fin and
bird nest, lending a distinct flavor and tenderness (and
price tag) to Chinese soups.
in California, abalone receives a less esoteric treatment
and is best enjoyed after a dusting of cracker meal, flour and a quick sauté. Or, perhaps, you could dress it up
a bit as abalone almondine or picatta-style. At Hoppe's Garden Bistro & Wine Shop in Cayucos, abalone was the centerpiece for a
luncheon that celebrated local heirloom products.
It appeared on pizza, followed by sautéed abalone
steaks with caramelized mango, toasted hazelnuts and tea-steeped
currants. Chef Hoppe's menu was also graced by heirloom tomato
gazpacho with tomato sorbet, a course of assorted Pedrozo
cheeses and poached local figs in orange essence for dessert.
trick to cooking fresh abalone is to tenderize it several
times on both sides with a broad knife and to sauté
it for only a few seconds. Otherwise it will become tough
and chewy a disaster. Connoisseurs, chefs and nostalgic
California transplants tend to stick with abalone steaks,
which The Abalone Farm hand-tenderizes fifty times on each
side before vacuum packing, freezing and shipping. Brad
Buckley, The Abalone Farm's Sales Manager, notes that their
small percentage of consumer orders mostly come from "West
Coasters who have moved away."
The Abalone Farm exclusively grows California Red Abalone,
which it supplies to the restaurant trade in live, fresh-packed
and tenderized frozen steak form under their Ocean Rose
label. Consumers can purchase steaks online at www.abalonefarm.com (or from the distributors listed on their site),
or by calling 877-367-2271, Monday through Friday 8 a.m.
to 4 p.m. PST. They ship shells with each order.
Abalone with Ginger Butter Sauce
(recipe courtesy of The Abalone Farm, Inc.)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 small shallots, minced
3 tablespoons dry white wine
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons ginger purée
6-8 abalone steaks
1/2 cup flour
Viola flowers or pansies for garnish (optional)
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until transparent. Add the wine and vinegar. Cook until the mixture is reduced to about 1 tablespoon and is syrupy. Whisk in the cream. Reduce the heat to low.
Set aside 2 tablespoons of the butter. Cut the remaining butter into pieces. Whisk in the butter, piece by piece, working on and off the heat as necessary to keep the butter from melting before it is emulsified. Whisk in the ginger purée. Remove from heat. Keep warm in a very low oven or in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.
Lightly pat steaks dry with a paper towel. Coat both sides of steaks with flour and shake off excess. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium size skillet over medium-high heat. Place enough abalone in the skillet to cover the bottom. Cook for 30-60 seconds on each side until golden brown.
Immediately transer the abalone to a warm serving platter. Pour the ginger butter sauce over the abalone. Garnish with flowers. Serve immediately.
(Updated: 09/19/12 DL)