Main dishes, Recipes, Travel

Fresh Abalone

I usually like to write up my wild culinary adventures right away, but when you’re camping, you’re not likely to have an internet connection capable of handling a big upload (or is download?).  That was the case with our five days in Cleone, California, a tiny hamlet just a couple of miles north of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County.

We go to Mendocino County (and camp in Cleone) at least once a year, twice if we can manage it, so Dennis can dive for abalone.  For those who don’t know, abalone is a shell fish, but not a fish.  It’s basically a big sea snail.  They look disgusting and taste divine when prepared properly.  So today’s post is about preparing abalone the way we like it best, and we’ve tried many different methods.

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For the past couple of years, we’ve been camping in April with our dear friends, Karen and Louie Fortino, as a birthday celebration for Dennis and Karen, whose birthdays are only days apart.  It’s a good excuse to get together with friends we don’t get to see that often.  They live within two hours of the coast.  For us, it’s an eight-hour drive, but the haul is worth it.

Many years ago, Louie taught us a method for breading and cooking abalone.  It’s the best.  Louie’s a fabulous Italian cook, and this is the way he prepares squid for calamari.  It works equally well with abalone.  But before you get to the breading, there are some essential steps to take to make sure the abalone is tender enough to chew.

First, Dennis pries the abalone out of the shell, cleans away the gut (full of ground kelp), and trims off the black “lips” around the edge of the creature.  These lips are actually the abalone’s feet.  They help it move around on the rocks on which it lives under the surface of the sea.  The meat is pounded a few times with an ab iron (the tool used to pry the abalone off the rock) or a mallet, or even a two by four, if that’s all that’s handy.  This helps that incredibly strong muscle to relax.  Then the meat is rinsed clean, sliced thin into steaks, and pounded again, this time with a meat mallet, bumpy side down.  It’s necessary for the abalone steaks to be tenderized this way, and Dennis usually pounds them until he can see the muscle fibers breaking down.

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Then it’s time for breading.  When we’re camping, we set up the breading station as follows:

*Put a cup of white flour in a paper plate and spread it out (for gluten-free abalone, I use brown rice flour here and homemade gluten-free breadcrumbs, seasoned the same way I season wheat flour breadcrumbs).

*Beat 3 eggs with a 3 tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl (or large paper plate) Mix with a half cup of chopped, fresh parsley if you have it.

*Pour a cup of Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs into another paper plate and spread them out (my recipe below).  If breadcrumbs are store-bought, add ¼ cup of grated Parmesean cheese and mix well.

This is enough breading for two medium abalone, which is enough abalone, with sides, for four hungry adults. The abalone steaks are dipped first in flour, then in the egg-parsley mixture, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.  After breading, they should be laid out in single layers on paper plates, waxed paper, plastic wrap, what-have-you, so that the breading doesn’t get soggy.

We usually have two people working the cooking process, one to bread and one to fry.  (Louie did the breading this time, and Dennis did the cooking, while I sat by the fire and drank wine with Karen!) As soon as breading starts, the cook should start heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  (Regular olive oil, not extra-virgin, is best for frying because it has a higher smoke point, but all I had this time was EV, and you just have to watch the temperature of the oil and clean the pan between batches.)  When the oil is hot but not smoking, it’s time to fry.

It only takes a few minutes to fry breaded abalone steaks.  By the time the breading is browned, the meat is tender and done.  It’s ideal to put the cooked abalone on a cooling rack and cover with paper towels to keep it warm, but when we’re camping, we just put it on paper towels in a paper plate and cover it loosely with foil to keep it warm.  If done right, the breading won’t become soggy while the rest is cooking.

Abalone is best fresh out of the ocean, but it can be removed from the shell, cleaned, and frozen in water (or a mixture of water and milk, Louie says) in freezer bags and eaten later.  We don’t bring it home any more.  It’s eaten on the spot!

We’ve tried other ways of preparing abalone.  It doesn’t have much flavor on its own, so it needs the seasoning in the breading, in my opinion, for best taste.  Dennis used to bread it in cracker crumbs, but the Italian bread crumbs are much better.  We’ve tried it sautéed in garlic and butter.  Blah.  We’ve tried it rolled in a flour and cornmeal mixture like fish.  Blah.  We’ve tried it in panko.  Blah.  We’ve tried it grilled.  Blah and yuck.  Basically, we’ve tried every way anybody who dives for abalone has said it’s good, and we’ve always come back to Louie’s calamari method.  It’s simply the best.

My apologies for the lack of photos with this post, but when you’re about to eat a once-or-twice-a-year delicacy, photos are the last thing on your mind!  I had to jump up and grab my camera just as we were ready to dive in, and I didn’t get pictures of the breading and cooking process because I was drinking wine with Karen.  🙂

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Homemade Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs for Abalone Breading

*4 cups dry breadcrumbs

*1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I do use the fine stuff in the green container for this)

*1/4 cup crushed, dried oregano

2 tablespoons crushed, dried basil

2 tablespoons crushed, dried parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon paprika (optional)

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Store in cool, dry place in airtight container.  Can be stored in fridge or freezer if tightly sealed.

I save heels, stale bread, hot dog and hamburger buns, dry ends of French bread—whatever I have—in the freezer until I have a gallon bag of it.  Then I dry it in the oven at 170-200 degrees.  I cool it, then run the pieces through the food processor with the blade in place.  I store this in ziplocs in the freezer and make up a batch of seasoned bread crumbs before we go to the coast.

For gluten free breadcrumbs, save the heels and stale pieces of bread and dry and grind them as above.  Then season away!

Earlier in the day, we stopped at Cowlick’s Ice Cream Parlor in Fort Bragg, and I had a scoop of Candy Cap Mushroom ice cream.  It sounds weird, but oh my, was it good!  It tasted like Butter Pecan or Butter Brickle ice cream.  I could have used another bowl of it for dessert!  (Not that we were lacking desserts, with homemade blueberry-topped cheesecake and homemade pineapple upside-down cake, neither of which were photographed!  We ate the evidence!)

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Garden and Greenhouse, Travel

Crescent City’s Farmers’ Market

I’ve been in Crescent City, California, for several days. We come here to fish, see family and friends, and enjoy the special atmosphere of the Pacific coast. I grew up just south of here, in the little town of Klamath, and I went to high school in Crescent City. It’s always wonderful to come back home to the coast.

This town sits back from one of the most beautiful natural harbors I’ve ever seen, with a brand-new small boat basin that was completely rebuilt after the 2011 tsunami.   The old Battery Point Lighthouse is visible from where I sit writing, on the dry strip of grass behind where our travel trailer is parked at the Bayside RV park. Behind me are some derelict boats and the old docks that were pulled from the wrecked boat basin, and behind them, a marine fabrication and repair shop. It’s noisy and stinky, but that’s part of the experience of staying so close to the harbor.

 

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Crescent City has had a thriving farmers’ market for some years now, but I’ve never managed to be here when the market is being held. On Wednesday, as I was returning from a visit with an old friend, I noticed the Downtown Crescent City Farmers and Artisans Market sign in front of the Price Mall parking lot, where the market is set up, right along Front Street. (There’s also a farmers’ market at the fairgrounds on Saturdays.)

 

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I arrived just as the market was closing at 2 p.m., but I still managed to speak with Hallie from Ocean Air Farms and get a few snapshots of some lovely produce she had leftover and the signboard that advertised what the farm was offering that day. Hallie told me that the farm sells to the farmers’ markets in Crescent City and Brookings and to the local whole/health foods store in Crescent City. I have to say, that cabbage looked wonderful, and if I’d had room in the little fridge in the travel trailer, I’d have bought one.

 

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The farm is located in Fort Dick, which is inland just enough to get a little more warmth than is usual right in Crescent City, plus a little more relief from the coastal fog and winds, and is in an ideal growing area for all kinds of vegetables.

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For my garden on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s early in the season yet, but Ocean Air Farms is already harvesting and selling over a dozen different vegetables. The prices looked pretty good to me for fresh, organic produce, although I have to admit, I’m not a frequenter of farmers’ markets because I grow nearly everything I want in my own garden, so I’m not the best judge of a good price at a farmers’ market.

 

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Just down the row from the Ocean Air Farms’ booth, I spoke with Rick Finley from River Bar Soaps. His family-owned company makes and sells a lovely variety of glycerin soaps with luscious-sounding scents. I’m a recent convert to homemade soap (and I’ll be posting more about that soon), so Rick and I talked about how much better handmade bar soaps make your skin feel than the liquid hand and body washes that have become so popular in the last 30 years. (I can’t wait to tell you about my experience with handmade soaps, but another time). If you’re a local and shopping at the farmers’ market, you might want to take a look at the River Bar Soaps booth. There’s also a website at www.riverbarsoaps.com for non-locals.

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Most of the vendors were packing up, but I did manage to get a barbecued pork stick and some “Gatorade” (full of fruit and what my sister later told me was probably lychee) at the Filipino BBQ place, and boy, was that pork wonderful! I liked the drink too, but it was a little sweet for me. (I drank half of it, and then dumped some lime juice and some sparkling water in it when I got back to the trailer.) I strolled through the jewelry vendors’ booths as they were packing up, thinking how much sister would enjoy looking at the jewelry and wishing she were with me, and then I took my lunch down to the B street pier and ate while watching a brown pelican coasting in the bay. I found a great place for Dennis and me to launch the little kayaks so we can paddle around the protected harbor.

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Wednesday was one of those wonderful days in Crescent City where the fog burns off early, and the sun comes out and mostly stays out, and the wind doesn’t get too strong. We had fresh fish for dinner and family to share it with. Feast time!

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