Abalone Ambitions | Sauteéd Abalone

I drive north from Morro Bay, nine miles along Highway 1 to buy abalone, a key ingredient in one of my favorite special dishes. Abalone has been cherished for centuries for its delicate flavor, beautiful shell and, among other believers, its aphrodisiac qualities.

The drive to the Abalone Farm on the north end of Cayucos at Estero Point, along some of the most scenic coastline in California, is as wonderful as the succulent mollusk I’m procuring. Turning left off Route 1, I soon detect the smell of wild sage and rosemary. Cresting the last steep hill of a winding, bumpy dirt road, the farm comes into view. Scores of cement salt water tanks filled with kelp and abalone stretch across the tops of the cliffs above the crashing waves of the blue Pacific below.

The Abalone Farm is the oldest and largest producer of farm-raised abalone (halitosis rufescent) per year, which it supplies to restaurants and ships all over the world. If I arrive during lunch, I may catch a soccer game between teams made up of the farm’s largely Hispanic work force. Brad, the General Manager, usually meets me in the lower parking area, from which we ascend to the production building to pick up my order.

In the production area, six to eight women seated at worktables and armed with tenderizing mallets pound away at the abalone flush to make it tender enough to eat. Brad usually reaches between the falling mallets to grab a couple small steaks for us to sample sashimi style. After dipping them in a mixture of rice vinegar, soy sauce and red chili oil, we down the delicious slices with quick chew.

I like to sauté abalone when I’m not using it for sashimi or sushi. Preparing sautéd Abalone is very simple; however, the trimming is critical. Chris Jones, a long-time friend, taught it to me more than 40 years ago. Chris liked to dive for wild abalone at a time when they were still plentiful along the Central Coast.

Let’s get cookin’!

Sauteéd Abalone

 

Ingredients

Abalone

Eggs

Saltine Crackers

Clarified Butter

Lemon

 

 

Begin with pounded pieces of abalone steak. Dip them in whole beaten eggs, then place them in crushed saltine crackers, breading the abalone on both sides. To sauté, bring clarified butter up to temperature. Place the abalone steaks in a large pan, taking care not to crowd them. Lightly brown the steaks, approximately 40 seconds per side. At the last minute, squeeze a fresh lemon over them and serve immediately, ladling a little of the now browned-butter over them. Any overcooking will cause the abalone to toughen and dry. 

What I like about the dish is its simplicity. There’s no reason to even accompany it with a sauce. The light cracker crust seals in the abalone’s delicate flavor. We serve the dish on our charter yacht, the Papagallo II, and always to rave reviews. 

In 2012, I was hired as a guest chef for a video shoot in Monterey, California, to introduce Dreaming Tree Everyday, a new wine varietal brought out by Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthew’s Band. I prepared Sautéd Abalone for Dave and his winemaker as a part of the shoot. Dave said it was one of the best things he had ever eaten.

Enjoy!

Chef Len

SAUTEED  CALAMARI  STEAK | Keeping it Simple


                                                  


Calamari – What is it?  It is the body of a large Squid with no head; a great protein food source low in fat often referred to as Humboldt Squid.  It is tough and rubbery and always should be tenderized before cooking unless you use a slow cook method.  Sometimes available fresh in fish markets, but most often purchased frozen.  It can also be purchased online.  The frozen product usually comes tenderized, but I always hit it again with a meat mallet to be sure my finished dish will be tender.  This tenderizing step is similar to my Abalone preparation.  The steaks I use are five to six ounce portions, about a quarter inch thick.  Price per pound fluctuates with market but fairly consistent at $5.00 per pound.  Grab your apron and head to the kitchen – let’s get cookin’.

METHOD:

Thaw steak overnight in refrigerator or to thaw quickly, place in a container of cold water for about 15 minutes until pliable.

TENDERIZING:

Place steak between two sheets of cling film and lightly pound with meat mallet. It is best to pound from the edges and work toward the center. Don’t pound too firmly as the steak will tear and be difficult to work with.  It normally doubles in size after pounding.

BREADING:

Use the standard breading procedure. Dredge in seasoned flour, dip in egg wash, and then place in breading media to coat.  I use Panko, but crushed Saltine Crackers also work well.  During the breading, the thin steak may be a little difficult to work with. Don’t worry if it breaks in two, just bread both parts.  After breading, you can go right to sautéing then service.  The tenderized steak can be refrigerated an hour or so before cooking or wrapped and frozen for future use.  The quality is best if cooked soon after breading.  In many restaurants, it is breaded to order then sautéed.

SAUTEE:

Use Canola or Vegetable Oil.  Choose a frying pan large enough to accommodate the size of the steak. The oil should be approximately a quarter inch deep and brought up to temperature before placing steak in pan.  Do not deep fry.  Oil should lightly sizzle when steak is sautéed and not crackle like a house afire. If that happens, the oil is too hot.  The best way to check oil temp is to lower the edge of the steak into the oil and it should gently sizzle then place the whole steak in. If there is no sizzle, the oil is not hot enough so wait for the temperature to come up.  Sautee on both sides until golden brown, this should not take more than four minutes. If the steak starts to curl during cooking or if it gets an air pocket underneath it, cut the edge or pierce the pocket with a paring knife until the steak lays flat.

FINISH:

When cooking is finished and steak is plated up, drizzle one or two tablespoons of melted butter and a squeeze of fresh lemon over the top. Garnish with fresh chopped Parsley; best served immediately.

CHEF’S NOTE:

If you’re serving several people and don’t have room on the stove, it’s okay to hold the cooked steaks in a 200 degree oven until served (best no more than 10 minutes).  On the yacht, we accompany this dish with fresh tartar sauce or a homemade Arrabbiata Sauce with Angel Hair Pasta.  Dish pairs well with Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay or a nice Pinot Noir.

Butta Bing, Butta Boom!

Chef Len