On Sunday, Amanda took me snorkelling for Paua. Paua is a type of abalone, which I think is unique to New Zealand, because abalones I had in Asia are all white, and Paua are black. I think they are better known for their pretty shells (pictured above) than their taste, for jewellery made from their shells are widely sold in souvenir shops, while the meat is hard to come by.
The meat is extremely expensive on the market, and I do love them, so when Amanda told me she’s going to snorkel for them, I was more than keen! We snorkelled at low tide, and they were mostly not too far below the surface, so when we found one, we just needed to take a breath, dive in and pry it off the rock. Prying them off the rocks is more tricky than I imagined because they suck on really hard if they sense you having a go at them. Once they suck on hard, it’s basically impossible to get them off because sharp tools are not allowed to be used. Therefore swiftness is critical. Also if Amanda didn’t tell me how to look for them, they look pretty much like rocks.
When we got home, Amanda cooked 3 up into this awesome goodness which I’m still salivating to while writing about it. Here’s what went into the dish (I eyeballed the amount):
- 3 paua each about 130mm in shell (Legal minimum is 125mm)
- 1 cup roughly chopped bacon
- 1+1/2 cups white wine
- 300ml cream
- 1 cup crab sticks, chopped into bite size
- 1 cup mushrooms, chopped into bite size
- 1 cup capsicum, chopped into bite size
Here’s what Amanda did:
- First, shell the paua by inserting your thumbs in between the meat and the shell. This takes some brute force. Once you made a crack (ha!), it becomes easier to slide your thumbs further to fully separate the meat from the shell. When you are near the end, pull the meat off while leaving the guts (attached to the shell) behind. Use a sharp knife to cut a notch where the sucker and feelers (antenna) are and take them off. (You can feel the sucker feels like a piece of cartilage.)
- Put the puau into a plastic bag and smash them with a big rolling pin or hammer until the white meaty part is cracked. They are extremely tough so take care while smashing. This step tenderises the meat so the cooking time can be shortened.
- Cut the paua into bite size cubes and add to a hot frying pan with chopped bacon. Fry until fat comes out of the bacon.
- Add 1/2 cup white wine to the pan and stir until steaming.
- Add cream, rest of the white wine and crab sticks then turn the heat down. Let it simmer for 20-30 minutes until the paua is tender and the cream is reduced and thick.
- Add mushrooms and capsicum until just cooked.
- Taste and adjust salt and pepper before serving.
I made an entire blissful meal out of this, then called my mom to brag about it! She was happy to learn the trick of smashing them before cooking, because she used to cook them whole, which requires 1-2 hours of simmering until they are tender. (Then we used to chill them, slice and serve with mayonnaise as an appetiser.)
In the past, we also occasionally slice the raw paua very thinly then quickly stir-fired with spring onions and garlics. This time, I also sneaked some and ate them thinly sliced raw, which I absolutely adored (I’m a huge sashimi lover), but no other friends thought it was anything to rave about…
If you want to try catching paua yourself, make sure you know the regulations. The price is high if you violate the rules, and our coast is well patrolled.