Simple, pan-fried abalone is the best way to appreciate the unique, crave-inducing flavor—something of a cross between scallops and foie gras—of abalone. It takes a bit of time to pound all the slices, but it's a very important step: without it, the abalone will be tough and chewy instead of meltingly tender. Cardboard or butter? That's the best way to describe the difference between the pre- and post-tenderized versions.
Wild abalone can only be picked in certain areas, with a license, and following strict rules. They cannot be legally purchased. What can be purchased, however, are farmed abalone. They are smaller than wild ones but just as succulent. Since farmed abalone are younger than wild ones (they are harvested after a few years, and to keep wild populations healthy only much larger, older abalones can be harvested), they have a less intense abalone flavor, which is a plus or a minus, depending on how much you like abalone.
Whether it's wild or farmed, abalone need to the cleaned and tenderized before cooking. If you've never done it before, check out these guides on How to Clean Abalone and How to Prepare Abalone for detailed, step-by-step instructions complete with pictures for guidance.
- 1 wild abalone or 2 farmed abalones
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Clean the abalone: Use a wooden spoon or spatula to wrest the abalone from its shell, cut off and discard the dark sac of viscera, cut off and discard the rubbery lip around the edge of the abalone, scrub the rest of the abalone clean or cut off the icky black stuff around the edges.
- Thinly slice the cleaned abalone. Pound the slices tender: use a meat tenderizer or, even better, the back of a large metal spoon to gently tap each slice until the texture goes from stiff to limp. Important counterintuitive note: Lots of gentle taps are better and more effective than hard pounds.
- In a large shallow bowl or wide plate, combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Dredge the abalone slices in the flour mixture, shake off any excess flour, and lay the abalone slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, cutting board, or platter. Alternatively, put the flour mixture in a large resealable plastic bag, add the abalone slices, and shake to coat.
- In a large frying pan or sauté pan, melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted and stopped foaming, add a single layer of the floured abalone slices to the pan and cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the slices over and cook until golden on the other side, another 2 to 3 minutes. Repeat with any remaining slices. Serve hot.
Pan-fried abalone slices are great all on their own, with perhaps just a spritz of lemon. They work as a simple and casual appetizer. Serve them on top of a simple salad to dress them up a bit. If you want to stretch them into more than an appetizer, tuck them into mayonnaise-slathered rolls with lettuce leaves and tomato slices to make rich, tasty sandwiches.