Mention abalone or perlemoen (mother of pearl), and most South Africans start to drool. It’s amazing how much of an electrifying effect this sea snail has on the gastronomic juices! But to be fair, it’s not only South Africans who love this seafood delicacy. Other countries with a long and historical love affair with abalone include Asia and Hong Kong, Australia, China, and South Korea.
In fact, many cultures love the fresh, salty, yet butter-like taste of abalone. Such has its popularity been since the 1940s that in 2010 the humble sea snail found itself on the endangered species list. Of course, this wasn’t only due to the high demand (legal and illegal) but also because of changes in the mollusks’ natural habitat. Global warming strikes again!
What is abalone?
Abalone, or as the sciency chaps call them, Haliotis midae, are marine snails, aka sea snails. They belong to the same family as mussels, sea slugs, and octopuses but are actually more accurately classed as ‘gastropods,’ which is fancy talk for ‘stomach on a foot!’
Abalone is also slow growing and usually takes three to four years to reach the right size when farmed for commercial purposes.
Where is abalone found?
If you’re wondering where is abalone found, you had better check over your shoulder! As mentioned earlier, these invertebrates are on the protected species list, so if you think you can go delving into rock pools for your dinner, you had better expect the long arm of the law to come tapping on your shoulder!
However, if you are keen to understand where these critters reside, it’s usually in rocky areas or rock pools along the coastline. Alternatively, you can purchase abalone, but only via licensed fish suppliers or restaurants. Furthermore, if you want abalone for dinner, be aware your cravings are bound to cost a pretty penny or, as we say, in South Africa, a fair few bucks!
Where are abalone shells found?
Aside from its tasty meat, this sea snail has an extremely beautiful shell hence its name, perlemoen (mother of pear. Prized for their gorgeous colouring, you will not often find these shells washed up along the South African coast. However, those searching for abalone shells can find them available to purchase via online shops or as ready-made jewelry.
History of abalone farming in South Africa
Initially, abalone farming started just after the second world war in a coastal town near Cape Town called Hermanus. Nowadays, farms extend along the coast from Saldanha (West Coast) all along the Southern Coast right up to the East Coast.
Between 2008 and 2010, commercial abalone farming was prohibited due to wild abalone dying out. Sadly, this was mostly due to illegal harvesting (poaching). Unfortunately, the reason for this is simple -high demand plus extremely lucrative market value equals abalone poaching! Did you know that abalone has the nickname ‘white gold?’ According to the Global Sea Food Alliance, the past few years have seen abalone prices average between $30 and $50 per kg!
If you have the necessary license to harvest wild abalone (not likely as they are red-listed by SASSI), they can only legally be harvested when they are 8-10 years old. This is because they take up to seven years to reach sexual maturity. Unfortunately, over-fishing and poaching have meant they don’t have enough time to reproduce, a direct cause of their endangered species listing!
Today abalone farming in South Africa is monitored by SASSI, the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative. But don’t despair; it’s not all bad news in the snail department! Commercial aquaculture ventures, such as the HIK Abalone Farm based in Hermanus, are working to ensure that tasty perlemoen remains on the menu and a part of our African culture. It’s also hoped that ventures like these will slow the need for poaching wild abalone, but only time will tell.
Traditional abalone recipe
Of course, all this talk of perlemoen can only mean one thing; you’re just as hungry as we are! So without further wasting time, let’s dive into a tasty recipe and tame those cravings!
What you need
- 250g abalone (approximately, without the shell)
- 2 tbsp milk
- 2 large eggs beaten
- 125 ml tomato sauce
- 1 tsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp horseradish
- Fresh parsley (chopped) for garnishing
- 5 cups bread crumbs
- 250 ml oil (sunflower/olive oil) for frying
What to do
- Use a sharp knife to slice the abalone into steaks taking care to trim off any discolored meat (nonwhite meat) as this will be too tough to chew.
- Place the steaks on a wooden cutting board and use a meat mallet to tenderise the abalone until soft. A heavy rolling pin will also work if you don’t have a meat mallet.
- Combine the horseradish, lime juice, and ketchup in a small bowl, then place the sauce in the fridge.
- Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan or skillet for approximately five minutes.
- While the oil is heating, whisk the egg and milk together. Next, dip the abalone into the egg mixture and coat it with the bread crumbs. Note that placing the bread crumbs into a resealable bag is easier. Simply place the abalone into the bag and shake to coat.
- Fry the crumbed abalone for 4-5 minutes on each side. The crumb coating should turn a lovely golden brown.
- Now place the cooked abalone onto a paper towel to drain the oil and serve garnished with fresh parsley and slices of fresh lime. Don’t forget the tasty horseradish sauce in the fridge! This gorgeous cocktail sauce is for dipping! Yum!
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