The sea cucumber doesn't look like the most appetising creature, whether it's alive in the ocean or dried and stacked in baskets in the market. What is it? One if the other names used for it, the sea slug, seems more appropriate for this animal. Like a garden slug, the sea cucumber slowly crawls along the ocean floor as it searches for food. For Chinese and some other Asian cuisines, the sea cucumber is most frequently bought after being dried. It's then soaked and rehydrated before being simmered in stock or braised in a rich stock. What to look for? When dried, it should be completely desiccated, because a small amount of moisture can cause it to spoil. What else? Sea cucumbers are also eaten in Spain. The Spanish variety is small, white and delicate, without the gelatinous texture of the specimens found in Asia. Although it's not a common dish, sea cucumber stomachs, usually cooked in a similar fashion to salt and pepper squid, are delicious. The sea cucumber is also sold under the name of beche-de-mer. How to use? Their texture and neutral flavour means they absorb intense sauces. For soup, after rinsing and soaking a sea cucumber, simmer it in a good homemade broth. Add a piece of Yunnan ham and cook until the sea cucumber is tender. Cut the sea cucumber and ham into small pieces, add fresh vegetables (such as diced winter melon and snow peas) then simmer briefly. Add a few drops of sesame oil before serving. Braised sea cucumber with dried mushrooms is a popular banquet dish. Soak the sea cucumbers overnight and the dried mushrooms for about 30 minutes, or until completely hydrated. Cut the sea cucumbers into large pieces and remove the thick stems from the mushrooms. Braise the ingredients in homemade chicken stock flavoured with rice wine, ginger, soy sauce, oyster sauce and white pepper. When the sea cucumber and mushrooms are tender, stir cornstarch dissolved in water into the braising liquid and simmer until the sauce thickens. Blanch leaves of iceberg lettuce until wilted then drain and squeeze out the excess water. Pile the lettuce into a bowl and top with the sea cucumber, mushrooms and braising liquid.