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Archive for the ‘Shellfish’ Category

Myall Lakes Prawns – mostly greasyback (Metapenaeus bennettae) and school prawns (Metapenaeus macleayi)

Myall Lakes Prawns – mostly greasyback (Metapenaeus bennettae) and school prawns (Metapenaeus macleayi)

When I was a kid, a kilo of school prawns and some mayonnaise was considered fast food for a family. With perhaps some white bread to wrap them in. McDonalds also came on the scene. It’s a terrible shame which one the world has managed to leave the most room for. Commercially, a lot of wild prawn fisheries are in a bad way, in terms of their numbers, bycatch impact, toxin uptake and/or other aspects of their sustainability. The prawn farmers are also a mixed bunch; some working towards some pretty sustainable food production, and others having a shameful toll by digging up wetlands, pillaging the sea for the feed inputs and discharging harmful effluents (Asian imports tend to rate the worst on these scores for prawns on sale in Australia). All in all, it is often very hard to know what you are buying. So, until some decent labelling laws come in, I pretty much don’t buy prawns at all.

This is where one the great joys of foraging means the most – there is no better way of knowing where your seafood comes from than getting right into the water and going after it yourself. I have been longing to try my hand at prawning for quite a while now, but I just wasn’t sure of how or where to give it a go. Some friends who knew this just so happened to come from a Central / Mid-north Coast family who take their prawning seriously. A casual invite to their last session of the season was leapt upon within seconds.

“What do I bring? Torches, a scoop net?” I asked, “You name it, I’ll get it”. “A pair of sandshoes” was the answer. A three hour drive to Bulahdelah to their family seat, a laid-back lunch of wonderful homegrown abundance and then off to the secret spot. I don’t actually know how guarded people are about their prawning spots, because the prawns don’t live there – they are just passing through on their way to the sea to breed. Nonetheless, having been afforded the dignity of not being blindfolded for the journey, I will leave locations out of it.

Heading to the prawning spot

Heading to the prawning spot

The drag net with its ingenious homemade harness

The drag net with its ingenious homemade harness

Bringing in the net

Bringing in the net

The prawn net itself is a pretty impressive piece of kit. Six metres of 30mm aperture net feeding into a tail end where, all going well, the prawns accumulate. There are floats along the top rope, weights along the bottom and 1.7 metres of net between them. It is all held square by two sturdy poles that must be dragged through the water by hand. Normally people hang on to ropes to drag it, although we had the benefit of an ingenious homemade custom rig with harnesses. The care and detail of these gave an early indication that I was under some pretty expert tutoring.

With the calculations about tide, moon, time and place made long before with tide charts and a hefty store of experience, and with the biggest and best set-up possible under NSW rules, it seemed that the hardest bits had been done. From there, it was just a walk through the water with another bloke five metres away doing the same. Simple. Until you start thinking about being belly deep in water in which to my mind there ought to be stingrays to tread on and bull sharks to be paranoid about. With phosphorescence in the water, your legs glow a little as they move, and so does the wake of fish that might swerve in front of you. Things start getting a little creepy for a bit until rationality reclaims its ground. The guys who have been doing it for decades had no concerns, so that did for me.

It turns out that the biggest danger is in fact a 5cm fish that looks not much more menacing than an aquarium goldfish – the fortescue (Centropogon australis), with spines that are said to give an agonising sting. And the danger isn’t even really in the water (because of the sandshoes), but sorting the catch when comfortably on dry land. Or perhaps that is the second biggest danger, behind missing out on being altogether chuffed with the realisation that you are out there getting amongst it on a beautiful starry night in paradise.

Successful prawning can go a long time into the night. If another pass with the net meant another kilo or two of prawns, you would take it. And another, until fatigue set in. And then the processing rules are pretty firm – you catch ‘em, you cook ‘em, that night. Unfortunately, we were safely in bed around midnight. This meant something under two kilos put away; where being up until 3am with twenty kilos would obviously have been preferred. However, it was enough at least for one glorious feed the next day and a few extra snacks.

With prawns, like a lot of seafood delicacies (abalone, crab, whitebait), simple is best. Just a little salt, fat (like butter) and tang (lemon) – or all three in the form of mayonnaise. If accompanied by anything else, just the simplest white bread fits the bill. Don’t let fine food snobbery lure you into some dark sourdough rye and angel-sweat-infused aioli which ends in you not tasting the catch. Wine and a nap would have topped it off to perfection. But it was water and a three hour drive back to the city instead; all the while planning on getting back out there when the season, sunset, tide and moon next align. Saturday 5th December is looking good for me – I can hardly wait.

Greasyback prawn (Metapenaeus bennettae) in the net

Greasyback prawn (Metapenaeus bennettae) in the net

Perfectly cooked prawns (which I have learned to be boiled in smallish batches in salted water just until a bubble can be seen under the shell of a middle segment)

Perfectly cooked prawns (which I have learned to be best boiled in smallish batches in salted water just until a bubble can be seen under the shell of a middle segment)

Prawn perfection (when simple is best): Freshly caught Myall Lakes prawns, freshly baked white bread roll, butter, mayonnaise

Prawn perfection (when simple is best): Freshly caught Myall Lakes prawns, freshly baked white bread roll, butter, mayonnaise

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Yabbies (Cherax destructor), a basic dipping sauce and mangoes – a relatively light start to the recent Christmas feasting

Yabbies (Cherax destructor), a basic dipping sauce and mangoes – a relatively light start to the recent Christmas feasting

Mangoes, croissants and prawns. Whether it is a tradition or a strong memory, I really couldn’t say, but that is Christmas morning food in my mind. A relatively light starter on a day that, by necessity, needs to anticipate some serious stuffing. And I was intent on putting it on our December 25 breakfast table last year (as in, last week). The mango stays (and to be honest, it is probably the least negotiable of all). Croissants easily give way to the Squeeze’s family tradition of chocolate pancakes. This is our family’s American side and, at their best, they do pancakes that can genuinely make a mockery of the imitations most of us Australians and Kiwis know.

But for prawns, despite doing a lot to keep myself informed and engaged on the issue, it remains all too hard to work out which particular array on a fishmonger’s iced shelf may or may not be part of an oceanic Armageddon of which I want no part. They all look like prawns and therefore like they are delicious, but how do I pick the signs of outrageous bycatch slaughter and waste or Southeast Asian wetland destruction in their empty spiny visages? In the absence of reasonable labelling requirements, an unreasonable amount of consumer effort is the answer. I understand that there are some sustainably and ethically harvested prawns out there, but practically, it becomes easier just to leave them all be.

What we call a yabby  - but in appreciation of the American pancakes (not pictured, sorry), and that we are a half-American family, let’s call these ones ‘Christmas crawdads’

What we call a yabby – but in appreciation of the American pancakes (not pictured, sorry), and that we are a half-American family, let’s call these ones ‘Christmas crawdads’

So, I have switched to foraged yabbies (Cherax destructor). Prawning with a hand net is on my list of planned foraging adventures, but until that day, yabbies are my closest accessible foraging bet. And, what is more, I prefer them. These from the NSW Southern Highlands (actually lowlands in the middle of the east, but so named for being marginally more southern and higher than Sydney). They may live in still murky water, but they still manage to taste like flowing rivers as long as the actual mud gets purged before the pot. And that is a precious taste, all too rare in dry old Australia, of what we sometimes call ‘sweetwater’.

Much like a prawn, you extract the tail meat from the shell, pull out the digestive line (“poo vein”) and dip the meat in a sauce that frequently involves mayonnaise. Unlike a prawn, you also get a couple of claws to get into – approached as you would a crab claw (cautiously if alive and with gusto if cooked).

Yabbies Cooked

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I forage for sea snails (see previous posts on paua, cartrut snailsabalone and turban snails). It is a bit fiddly and they aren’t all to everyone’s taste, but I love it. For one thing I love snorkelling and so the gathering is no effort; and for another, as an archaeologist, shell middens (the remains of pre-1788 Aboriginal seaside foraging) are my specialist thing. For years, this midden-love has driven me to keep my foraged shells; piles of them in the garden and at the bush block and bags of them on the shelf in my office. But now I am using them up.

From foraged sea snails I get meat and shells

From foraged sea snails I get meat and shells

I have recently acquired chickens, six of them, and I want them to knock out an egg most days, each one obviously with a shell. So they need calcium, and I have a whole lot that turned out to be ready and waiting for them in the form of the seashells. I crush them between bricks and they eat any piece small enough to get down their gullet. My dad grew up on a chook farm and the common standard of using oyster grit that he knew 60 years ago as a lad is still in practice today; I just have a foraged version.

Shells go into chickens and shells come out of chickens

Shells go into chickens and shells come out of chickens

Then I get eggshells. Unfortunately they don’t come with the pearly nacre of a turban snail or the rainbow reflections of an abalone shell, but they are nonetheless nice and strong. While some folk will feed these back to the chooks, I have the seashells for that. So I boil, dry and crush the eggshells to feed them to the puppy instead. You see, she still just has her baby teeth and can’t really make much of a dent in a bone and meanwhile has fast growing bones of her own. So she needs calcium too. For most pups these days, this comes in the processed food, but with me feeding her on real meat and vegetables as much as I can, I need to add calcium; and some of it comes in the form of powdered egg shells.

It is a pretty good system if you ask me, and I still get the choice bits: Sea snail meat, fresh eggs and a healthy dog.

As chook owners do, we eat a lot of eggs and accumulate a lot of shells; these are boiled, oven dried (avoiding salmonella risks) and crushed

As chook owners do, we eat a lot of eggs and accumulate a lot of shells; these are boiled, oven dried (avoiding salmonella risks) and crushed

The crushed shells go with meat (plus kumara, carrots, legumes, vegetable oil, etc) into home-made dog food

The crushed shells go with meat (plus kumara, carrots, legumes, vegetable oil, etc) into home-made dog food

I’m liking the idea of sea snail mince cooked for a long time sous vide these days and put in pies with a mornay sauce; but for the sake of this post, a sea snail omelette with sour cream and hot sauce also works

I’m liking the idea of sea snail mince cooked for a long time sous vide these days and put in pies with a mornay sauce; but for the sake of this post, a sea snail omelette with sour cream and hot sauce also works

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Fairly early on in the dive, I looked out into the blackness above the surface to see where the other three lights were shining below and thought to myself, ‘these guys are f’ing crazy’. But then I thought ‘what the hell’ and followed. Later on, looking out for them again, I realised that I was bobbing in the ocean off a place named after sharks in the middle of the night and only then did it dawn on me: Given that they had a lot more idea of what they doing than I did, if anyone was f’ing crazy, it was me. I talked myself down from the start of freaking out and pissed in my wetsuit. Again. Mostly, but not entirely, because when it’s your wetsuit and you’re cold, you’re allowed to.

A picture actually taken on a safe and simple cave dive in Mexico, but you get the idea, it can be a little freaky down there in the dark

A picture actually taken on a safe and simple cave dive in Mexico, but you get the idea, it can be a little freaky down there in the dark

With just a relatively few sheltered-water night snorkels and night scubas behind me, this was pushing outside of my comfort zone. These other fellas, on the other hand, were serious spearfishermen; it wasn’t their first rodeo as they say, and in their 5mm diving wetsuits and long diving fins they were rugged up and warm and cruising along. Meanwhile, in a cheap old poorly fitting 3mm suit and bodysurfing fins, I was freezing and flapping by comparison.

Night snorkelling (pic from another post)

Night snorkeling from above (pic from another post)

We were there to hunt crays (eastern rock lobster, Jasus verreauxi), and that means ferreting down among the cracks and overhangs after them. Diving gloves on and experience at their disposal for the others, gardening gloves and what turned out to be some nice beginner’s luck for me. Seeing three crays lurking in a crack, I notice that one is a little small; the next part is a bit of a blur insofar as all I recall is lunging in to grab something other than the small one. And then I surfaced with one of the bigger crayfish in my hand. There are specific bags that one carries for putting these things in. I don’t have one. One of the others kindly carries my catch, and we head off for more. Even more kindly, when I had become so cold as to start having trouble getting about properly, he heads in with me. He had his bag limit of two and I had exceeded the expectations that I started with by having anything at all and getting back in one piece. By the time the other lads were in, I was well on my way into warming up in long underwear, three jumpers and a bottle of wine.

The hard-won prize, eastern rock lobster (or crayfish), Jasus verreauxi

The hard-won prize, eastern rock lobster (or crayfish), Jasus verreauxi

Once comfortable, I was able to slowly start putting the pieces of the memory of all it all back together. How I hadn’t lost my weight belt after all, but had simply left it off while nervously messing with my gear at the start, as if somehow it might become something other than shoddy and old if I toyed with it enough. How much more sinuous and slinky the most spectacular of the night fish are; the wonderful emerald and caramel coloured green moray eels (Gymnothorax prasinus), the beardies (Lotella rhacina), the blindsharks (Brachaelurus waddi) and Port Jackson sharks (Heterodontus portusjacksoni). Then how the inky black alien sensory overload of it all was such that other nastier sharks hadn’t gotten around to really being a concern of mine. And how a big yellow gibbous moon rose up out of the sea and I told myself to marvel at a mental picture of it later because my mind didn’t have the time to enjoy it right then.

Cray_gear

The cray is in the fridge, I’m going over for mum’s birthday tonight and I’ll get dad to turn the barbie on. I’m not sure which story I’ll tell, because both of them are true in their way; whether I went bravely into the night sea to hunt a crayfish by hand, or nervously followed three crazy men out there and got lucky.

Barbecued crayfish, with noting more than a lot of butter (top recipe here)

Barbecued crayfish, with nothing more than a lot of butter (top recipe here)

Caveat: Of all the foraging I have written about, this is the last thing that I would recommend having a go at. The truth is that it is not entirely safe. Leaving aside the issue of sharks, if something goes wrong out there, there is a real chance that you could end up being flotsam and a news story.

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MolluscRules

Play by the rules, especially when you are a visitor: Bag limit of 10 paua (25 for mussels), minimum size 12.5cm

Paua (Haliotis iris)

Paua (Haliotis iris)

If there is one thing that I love as much as Australian blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra), it is New Zealand paua (Haliotis iris). And I’ll go pretty close to the ends of the earth to get it. Southland to be precise; the remote south coast of remote New Zealand’s remote South Island, or even the more remote Stewart Island that hangs off the bottom of that. If you do happen to get there and find someone else holidaying in Southland, as often as not they will be a Southlander themselves. It is that kind of wonderful place with wonderful people where there are plenty of reasons either not to leave or to make an effort to get back if you do. As long as you are of the opinion that paradise can be often cold and wet, then this is it.

Cosy Nook on Southland’s south coast – supposedly not actually a great paua spot any more, but a beautiful place that can easily be on the way to one

Cosy Nook on Southland’s south coast – supposedly not actually a great paua spot any more, but a beautiful place that can easily be on the way to one

Where this place is and whether I got paua there is something I really couldn’t say

Where this place is and whether I got paua there is something I really couldn’t say

If you really time it right and get lucky, you might even get some paua without getting too wet, but this means getting to the right spot in the short window of the bottom of the lowest tide of the month as far as I can work out. If you strike out, there is at least always a pretty good chance of some lovely greenlip mussels (Perna canaliculus) for consolation. Off Southland, you will be doing well to get clear enough water for good snorkelling visibility, so it seems to me that you still want the bottom of the tide for that and to find a sheltered spot in shallow water on any typically murky day and just fumble about as best as you can. A sure haul of big ones would probably want you in some more challenging water and ideal conditions, but in the end you just have to make do with what you get.

Groping around in the low tide might make finding paua difficult, but mussels are a likely consolation

Groping around in the low tide might make finding paua difficult, but mussels are a likely consolation

greenlip mussels (Perna canaliculus)

greenlip mussels (Perna canaliculus)

Get yourself across the Foveaux Strait from the south coast to Stewart Island (Rakiura) on the other hand, hire a kayak for a few nights out in some of the huts around Paterson Inlet, take a decent wetsuit and your mask and snorkel and things certainly get easier. They don’t get warmer mind you, and it still rains on more days than it doesn’t, so you just gear up and embrace it as ‘part of the charm’.

I have to say that I hate those recommendations of ‘things that you should do before you die’, like paraglide naked in the moonlight with whale sharks in Lappland. But still, if eating fresh paua (or any seafood you took part in landing) at the bottom of New Zealand turns out to be one of them, you are sure to be glad of it.

Troll with a lure while you’re at it and you may get a barracouta (Thyrsites atun) – not a popular local delicacy, but can be bait for the blue cod (Parapercis colias) that is

Troll with a lure while you’re at it and you may get a barracouta (Thyrsites atun) – not a popular local delicacy, but can be bait for the blue cod (Parapercis colias) that is

While swimming is decidedly chilly around Stewart Island, there is a good chance that you will be cold and wet above the water anyway

While swimming is decidedly chilly around Stewart Island, there is a good chance that you will be cold and wet above the water anyway

Snorkelling alongside a kayak buddy helps you be a little bolder and gives you somewhere to stash the catch

Snorkelling alongside a kayak buddy helps you be a little bolder and gives you somewhere to stash the catch

Cook them as you would other abalone, sliced and tenderised in my view, sautéed hot and fast in butter (see here). Generous serves in a sandwich of that cheap soft white bread you mightn’t let your kids eat, particularly when camping, can be perfect (and a filling with an (irrelevant) market value of $10 on 10c bread is somehow strangely and ironically decadent).

PauaFeet

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Cartrut shell (Dicathais orbita)

Cartrut shell (Dicathais orbita)

In the lead up to Christmas, Sydney has turned on some classic Australian summer. So as coasters, we have been in the water snorkelling. Along the way I’ve casually pocketed some cartrut shells (Dicathais orbita) on a couple of offshore ventures (plus a couple of Spengler’s triton (Cabestana spengleri)). Legal bag limits and their abundance would have allowed for a lot more, but I’m on holiday and opting for light duties. They have been brought home, boiled and removed from the shell, minced and put into a recipe that essentially replaces the crab in crab cakes. Both cartruts and tritons are carnivorous sea snails and genuinely do have a slightly crabby taste to them. But not at all a crabby texture, hence the mincing.

These will come with me to the family Christmas day to be served as a canapé somewhere in among the day’s feasting. ‘Poor man’s crab cakes’ though they may be, if you get them right they are a genuine delicacy.

The name ‘cartrut shell’ comes from the distinctive lines on the shell that look like wheel tracks. The shells are boiled for 10 minutes and then can be picked from the shell with a fork. If you can’t quite get to some meat with a fork or skewer, you can usually dislodge them a bit by holding the shell tight and flicking your wrist hard.

The name ‘cartrut shell’ comes from the distinctive lines on the shell that look like wheel tracks. The shells are boiled for 10 minutes and the meat can then be picked from the shell with a fork. If you can’t quite get to some meat with a fork or skewer, you can usually dislodge them a bit by holding the shell tight and flicking your wrist hard in a downward motion (into the sink).

Once out of the shell, trim off the guts, the head and the hard bits and put the remaining meat through a mincer.

Once out of the shell, trim off the guts, the head and the hard bits and put the remaining meat through a mincer.

Once the meat is through the mincer, follow it with some bread to get the last of the meat through. From here you can just use a favoured crab or fish cake recipe or find one online. Largely due to what is in my cupboards and herb garden, mine was chives, garlic, dried lemon zest, chillies, parsley and half a kaffir lime leaf. Mix through an egg or two and a dollop of sour cream until it is a fairly runny mix and then bring back to a consistency that can be hand moulded into patties by mixing in bread crumbs.

Once the meat is through the mincer, follow it with some bread to get the last of the meat through. From here you can just use a favoured crab or fish cake recipe or find one online. Largely due to what is in my cupboards and herb garden, mine was chives, some caramelised onion, garlic, dried lemon zest, chillies, parsley and half a kaffir lime leaf. Mix through an egg or two and a dollop of sour cream until it is a fairly runny mix and then bring back to a consistency that can be hand moulded into patties by mixing in bread crumbs.

Pan fry the cakes until browned on both sides and put in a moderate oven for another 15 minutes to finish cooking the egg through. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce (or sambal oelek or a hot sauce if you like some heat; and if you don’t, the salty hit of some fish roe works well).

Pan fry the cakes until browned on both sides and put in a moderate oven for another 15 minutes to finish cooking the egg through. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce (or sambal oelek or a hot sauce if you like some heat; and if you don’t, the salty hit of some fish roe works well).

Happy Christmas,

Oliver

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Blacklip abalone (Haliotis rubra) shell, a jewel of the sea

If I were to choose one foraged food over all others, without hesitation it would be abalone (Haliotis spp.; blacklip abalone (H. rubra) where I come from). If I had to pay for it, I might not say the same. Not just because it is very expensive, but because of how much the joy of abalone is a whole package: The focused, exploratory snorkelling in the precious clear water; the thrill of finding one after what can be a long time of uncertain searching; the trip home, salty and satisfied; the preparation and cooking, knowing that it is the one wild food that after a lot of practice I really think I have gotten right. And of course, the eating.

Going in for abalone, Port Arthur, Tasmania (at one of Australia’s only World Heritage archaeological sites where somewhat shamefully as an Australian archaeologist I did this instead of going inside).

A common view for abalone foraging taken on the last trip – coming back empty-handed would still have been a win

A conspicuous blacklip abalone; I couldn’t say what the most inconspicuous ones look like because I’m sure I’ll never find them

As of March this year, the NSW Department of Primary Industries, who manage our fisheries (or mismanage it in the case of abalone), reopened a limited abalone fishery in the area between Newcastle and Wollongong where it has been banned for many years. On weekends and public holidays (with a license) you can now take 2 abalone with a minimum size of 11.7cm.

If you are comfortable swimming in sometimes rough open water and free-diving down to serious depth into kelp fringed crevices, then you seriously ought to give it a go (within the legal limits of course). If not, but you are a comfortable snorkeler at shallow depths in calm water offshore you should still keep your eyes peeled, because you never know your luck – and the further your get from Sydney southwards to Tasmania, and the more remote the shore, the better your luck is likely to be.

Focused on the job on my last outing, I looked up to see a four foot shark two feet from my face. Turned out to be a Port Jackson shark (Heterodontus portusjacksoni; which compares to the common idea of a shark as a muzzled toothless spaniel does to a wolf). Although utterly harmless, any sinuous huge fish will scare a least a little shit at least a little out of you when it takes you by surprise that close up. I collected myself for a go at some photos, and soon came across another similarly harmless blindshark a few minutes later.

Port Jackson shark (Heterodontus portusjacksoni)

Blindshark (Brachaelurus waddi); another harmless shark of the same trip

Although a part of me would like to dissuade you from adding any pressure to this struggling resource with such talk of sharks, I must confess the truth that with some common sense, it is probably safer than venturing into traffic, and perhaps I should even encourage you into the water. Because another part of me thinks that more educated politically active abalone foragers is actually what the resource needs; to help take it back from being slayed by increasingly absentee commercial quota-holders, their part-time black marketeering and their lucrative export market. The whole focus of the industry and the DPI is commercial to the worst extent of venality, and gives us a government department that actually takes pride in the fact that they have boosted commercial potential by actively forcing recreational and subsistence foragers out of the water.

A few years ago, the DPI commissioned a study into the closure around Sydney. It recommended that the recreational take should be re-opened with a bag limit of 5 and that a commercial take should never again be allowed between Newcastle and Wollongong. The DPI response was to ignore it. In fact the latest external report I have read took its first task as a review of the past decade or so of reports, found that the one consistent thing with all of them was that the DPI ignored the recommendations and just did what the industry asked of them instead, and then explicitly questioned why they were being commissioned to write anything at all.

Rant over, back to the foraging.

My last abalone dive, as the photos hopefully suggest, was more than anything else a beautiful stretch in the water; early summer conditions on shore but with the clarity of winter water down below (whilst still perfectly comfortable in a decent wetsuit). I came home with just one legal (>11.7cm, on a weekend) abalone. The rest of it is below in pictures.

First up, the abalone must be more than 11.7cm at its longest (note the picture has an old 11.5cm gauge, so I was only in by less than a cm)

Ignore any advice that says you can pry and ‘pop’ the meat from the shell; it may work for big abalone like Californian red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) or New Zealand paua (Haliotis iris), but a modest NSW blacklip comes out best with a sharp flexible blade slid in on the flat (closest in the photo) side of the shell, cleanly slicing the meat from the shell.

With the black fringes trimmed and scrubbed away, the remaining meat should be sliced into three layered cuts. The first (and best) is the narrower top piece that was connected to the shell.

Two more, broader but thinner cuts are split from the remaining lower part. There is an obvious groove where the black fringe resists trimming that you can follow with the blade. The piece facing up in the photo is the base with the lower slimy ‘sole’ shaved off; this is the toughest piece but can still either be tenderised or have its almost crunchy hardness enjoyed.

A dressed abalone, my way; while there is no orthodoxy to it, with the tenderising techniques below, I would back it against either of the common alternatives of thin slices or slow cooking.

You can tenderise abalone one or all of three ways: Slow cooking (not discussed, but see here if you like); merciless beating (below); or (photo above) soaking for a day or so in milk. The milk soaking is quite new to me, can work amazingly, and when it doesn’t can be supplemented with a beating anyway.

The ideal with beating abalone with a tenderiser is that it should be as close to hammered into a paste as can be done leaving it one piece for pan frying – it firms up again when cooked.

Pan frying should be hot and quick; 30 seconds each side in butter, in a pan so hot that the minute involved leaves the butter perilously close to burnt.

In the entirely recreational extent of my abalone diving, off Sydney, the NSW South Coast, Tasmania and New Zealand, even allowing that it is one my very favourite foods in the world, the greatest joy I get from it is that of simply doing my foraging in the sea. If I could have only one, the snorkelling or the abalone, I would forgo the latter. The point being that if you were to take encouragement for anything out of this, it should simply be to go snorkelling. Perhaps get a waterproof camera (mine is a pretty simple Olympus Tough) and hunt harmless shark images; perhaps just revel in the fact that you have plunged from a teeming city into one of the world’s most beautiful natural places. One way or another, you are likely to come home with delicacies. It turns out that there is no single crown jewel, there are many, and you are likely to adore at least one of them.

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