Saturday, August 4, 2007

Local Food: An experiment goes miserably wrong...

When I called Catalina Offshore Products on Friday morning to place an order, I asked for some halibut and then inquired after their local shellfish. The woman on the other end suggested abalone – about one pound (5-6 pieces) for a two-person meal. It was wickedly expensive ($30 a pound), but I thought it would nice to have a little diversity in our diet every once and while. After all, abalone is a delicacy, right?

I picked up my order several hours later and excitedly opened up the bag of abalone to check out my newest experiment. My only experience with abalone up to this point has been in prepared and expertly presented sushi. As I grabbed one of the shells, I was surprised to feel the resistance, but dismissing it, I turned it over in my hand.

It took me a few seconds to realize,

but there was no doubt.

It was MOVING.

Surely, I thought, my eyes are playing tricks on me. Certainly, these cannot still be alive!

Oh, but they were. And for anyone who has seen a snail (which is really what abalone is), these little guys do not move about in a very attractive fashion, but slip and slide and make a complete mess of things. I hastily dropped it back in the bag, where it attached itself to another.

I must have stood there in the middle of the kitchen, not moving, for some time before I decided to call my husband in a panic. His response was something along the lines of: “Are you out of your MIND?!" and "Didn’t you think to ask if it was alive??” Well, no, I hadn’t actually.

Now, I must warn you, if you are squeamish, you may wish to drop to the last paragraph. What followed was not pretty.

My husband set to work after calling Catalina for some tips, insisting that at $30 a pound, we were not going to let this all go to waste. He placed two abalone on the cutting board, and I watched as the two straightened up and started working their way across the cutting board, twisting their shells this direction and that, seemingly unaware of their coming doom. Bravely, Brian picked one up, grimaced, and forced a knife under the shell to cut it free. He then proceeded to trim off the excess bits – the head, the tentacles, the skin.

Regardless of what everyone says about snails having a very low intelligence, the second abalone – seeing what happened to the first – immediately pulled back into its shell. And the way the others clung to each other in the bag made the whole thing something akin to killing a litter of kittens (not that I have ever done so, but it couldn’t be much worse).

I admit, I stood by and averted my eyes as Brian ended up with abalone goo all over his hands, but I could tell by the look on his face that he was completely disgusted, and the sharp glares I was receiving made it very clear that if I ever placed him in a similar situation again, our marriage would certainly be in peril. He proceeded, more quickly each time, pausing only to send me it’s-a-good-thing-I-love-you looks.

Once the butchering was complete, he dropped the trimmed pieces into the frying pan and cooked them quickly on either side. They are only to be cooked a second or two, but having just seen these guys crawling about on our counter, we left them on longer than we should have.

We sat down at the table. The next few minutes were completely silent, with the exception of our labored chewing. They were rubbery. And tasteless. And, well, gross. Wanting them really dead had been our downfall.

I went back to clean up the carnage in the kitchen a few minutes later. One little abalone head was still moving about, its little antennae/feelers twitching. I repressed a gag and promptly tossed it all into the garbage disposal where it was chopped into mush and sent off into the sewage system.

As you have probably anticipated, we have resolved to leave abalone to the professionals from this point forward. I've also vowed to ask the status of “freshness” before I try any other experiments of this fashion!


Jamie Thornton said...

Wow... I would definitely not have had the courage to eat them after seeing them slither across the countertop. Though I guess this makes you (or, really Brian), an active and 'knowledgeable' participant in the food that ends up on your table! Kudos to Brian for supporting you in this endeavor - through sickness and in health, through eating local and killing your own meat ... and eating it too...


Diane said...

Great story - and photo! Glad it was you and not me!

Oerdin said...

I love abalone but you can't be a wuss. Killing stuff you eat should be mandatory for anyone who eats meat.