Seafoods 2: Three Ways of Preparing Sea Cucumbers (海參三法)

海鮮單:海參三法
海參,無味之物,沙多氣腥,最難討好。然天性濃重,斷不可以清湯煨也。須檢小刺參,先泡去沙泥,用肉湯滾泡三次,然後以雞、肉兩汁紅煨極爛。輔佐則用香蕈、木耳,以其色黑相似也。大抵明日訪客,則先一日要煨,海參才爛。嘗見錢觀察家,夏日用芥末、雞汁拌冷海參絲,甚佳。或切小碎丁,用筍丁、香蕈丁入雞湯煨作羹。蔣侍郎家用豆腐皮、雞腿、蘑菇煨海參,亦佳。

List of Seafoods::Three Ways of Preparing Sea Cucumbers
As an ingredient, sea cucumbers have little to no taste, are full of sand, and are remarkably fishy in smell. For these reasons, it is also the most difficult ingredient to prepare well.

This is a classic preparation of sea cucumber, braising with shitake. Looking at this makes me so so hungry. (Photo Credit: avixyz)

Due to its heavy and thick texture, sea cucumbers should never be cooked in mild and delicate soups. For the small spiked sea cucumber [1], one must first soak it in water [2] and remove all the mud and sand embedded in the item. It must then be boiled three times in meat broth and then simmered in chicken and pork extracts with soy sauce until supple and soft. One should use shitake or wood-ear mushrooms [3] as supporting ingredients to sea cucumber since their colours match well. If one is entertaining guests the next day, preparations for the sea cucumbers must be started immediately since it needs to be simmered for an entire day in order for it to be soft enough to eat.

In the summer, Observer Qian’s abode[4] serves an exceptionally good salad of shredded sea cucumber tossed with a ground mustard and chicken extract dressing, or soups of finely cubed sea cucumber with cubed bamboo shoots and cubed shitake mushrooms in chicken broth. In the abode of Assistant Minister Jiang [5] they serve a dish made with simmered tofu sheets, chicken thighs, and mushrooms with sea cucumbers that is also very good.

Random note:
[1]: Apostichopus japonicus. These are popular for individual servings due to their smaller size. But for more gourmets, Holothuria fuscogilva, known as the “white teatfish”, is more alluring due to the thickness of its gelatinous flesh. The thickness criteria for quality extends to squid and cuttlefish. There is nothing better than biting into thick slice of fresh grilled squid simply seasoned with olive oil and salt, like they do in Valencia, Spain.

[2]: Sea cucumbers, the “Ginseng of the oceans” (海參), are almost never sold fresh and any “fresh” sea cucumbers should be suspect. When dried they are hard as a rock and a bit heavy for its size. Check-out this site for pictures. Yes, by many people’s standards they look far from appetizing, but note too that by many people’s standards a moldy spoiled chunk of coagulated milk is also rather disgusting.

[3]: Shitake and woodear. Delicious.

[4]: For a while I had no idea what was “錢觀察家”. Roughly translated it means: “Person/family in a profession that watches money”. Accountant? Money handler? Treasurer? Financier? Little did it occur to me tha perhaps “錢” could have been a last name. So, 錢觀察家 should actually be translated as “Observer Qian’s abode”. Go figure.

[5]: Jiang was also famous for his eponymous tofu dishes the “Assistant Minister Jiang Tofu” (蒋侍郎豆腐)

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