Food Archives

June 28, 2006

Durian, the King of Fruits


Durian is one of the most controversial fruits. This is due to its incredible smell which has been described using words like "sickening", "putrid" and "gross". Indeed it is true. The smell of the inside of the durian is so strong that some hotels bar guests from bringing it into their hotel room. I once kept a couple pieces closed in a plastic bag in a hotel mini-bar in Thailand and the smell remained for days.

For the price of enduring this smell, the reward is what some consider to be the "King of the Fruits", a creamy textured almost custard-like flesh with an aftertaste that will remind you of it for the better part of an afternoon. It is certainly an acquired taste.

Another factor leading to its kingly status is the size and shape of it. Durian is typically the size of a small watermelon and is covered with thorny spikes. Cutting through to the meat inside takes a large knife and good technique. Inside are a few kidney shaped chunks which are the edible part. They are covered with a thin membrane and aren't too difficult to separate from the woody outer covering.

As memorable and stately as the durian is, I really prefer the queen of fruits, the small round purplish mangosteen which has all of the creamy texture of the durian with a sweet refreshing pure taste.

August 29, 2006

Abalone Sashimi

The first step in preparing abalone sashimi is to get an abalone. In California, red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) harvesting is restricted to certain months and only on the coast North of the Golden Gate. Further, it is required that you take abalone without the use of compressed air. This means you can either wade in the water, or dive while holding your breath. The abalone here was found at about 20 feet.

Once you have an abalone, the next step is cleaning it. To do this is fairly simple, but a bit time consuming. Here is how to do it step by step.

abalone cleaning
  • First scrub the abalone in the shell. The abalone you are holding has been down there for quite a few years and is a bit slimy. Use some coarse salt and a stiff brush. A scotchbrite pad works well too. The idea is to scrub as much as possible in the shell as you have something firm to hang onto. Don't worry too much about the center of the foot. You are likely going to trim it off anyway. Work on getting most of the black membrane off the foot.
  • Once you have got it as clean as you can remove the abalone from the shell. This is done from the "front" of the abalone. The front is the thinner flatter edge, furthest away from the start of the spiral. This is where the mouth and eyes are located. Balance the abalone on the back end on a firm surface (I just use the ground) Take your abalone iron and slip it between the abalone and the shell until it meets strong resistance and then push hard on the iron driving it between the abalone and the shell. It should pop loose from the shell, but will still be held in place by the surrounding organs and tissues. Stop here and lay it down flat.
  • Get a small sharp knife handy.
  • With the front of the abalone facing you, grab the back of the abalone and pull it towards you. It should separate on its own from most of the organs, but you will need to trim along the very back to get it completely free. Be gentle so you don't pop any of the organs and make a mess. This step is easier than it sounds. You should now have the muscle completely free.
  • Take the muscle to a place with running water and continue to scrub the rest of the black membrane off. The result should look something like this:
cleaned abalone
  • You can see there are some traces of black remaining. For sashimi this usually gets trimmed off. You can cook it separately so save the bits.
  • Next thing is to cut out the mouth. On the right side of the abalone in the picture you can see where it looks pinched together. This is where the abalone tongue or "radula" is located. It is a sort of raspy thing that the abalone uses to scrape food with. Take a sharp knife and cut out a "V" shape containing this. You probably want to discard this piece.
  • After that, trim the remaining membrane and edges off until you have a clean chunk of muscle. The next picture shows what it looks like before and after. As I mentioned, after you discard the mouth and the bottom of the foot the rest of the trimmings can be cooked (butter and garlic anyone?) and eaten. Deep frying it like calamari might be a good option if you have hot oil available.
Trimmed abalone
  • Once you have a nicely trimmed abalone getting to sashimi is easy. Using a sharp knife slice off 2-3mm slices. To make the cuts clean use a long sharp knife and pull it towards you in a single motion. Avoid sawing back and forth.
  • If you aren't as handy with a knife, you can make the slices thicker and then score them lightly on each side. Try both and see which works best and tastes best to you.
  • Once you have cut the abalone, you can clean the guts out of the shell. If you do this carefully you can cook them as well - an acquired taste. The large comma shaped object is the reproductive organ and is the key to telling the sex of the abalone. Green or grey indicates a female while tan/cream indicates a male. At any rate, the cleaned up shell makes a nice tray to serve the sashimi on. Serve with soy sauce and a bit of wasabi.
Abalone Sashimi

Next up Uni (aka: sea urchin).

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