When it comes to abalone, most Chinese people think of the expensive dried versions that take hours to soak and braise. The dried stuff is expensive for a reason: to get the size that’s normally sold, about 5cm (2in) long (although they can be bigger and even more costly), you have to start with much larger abalone, and they take a long time to dry. Fresh abalone is much easier to prepare, and while it’s not the cheapest seafood, it is an affordable luxury.
In Japanese cuisine, katsu refers to boneless pieces of meat (pork, chicken or beef) that are breaded then fried. Here, the fresh, small, whole abalone are given the same treatment. Don't overcook the abalone, or they will be tough.
If you're having the seafood vendor clean the abalone for you, buy them as close as possible to when you plan to cook them, and ask for four of the shells, to serve the sauce in. It isn't much trouble to clean them yourself.
I serve three or four abalone per person, as a main course. For the mayonnaise, I use Hellman's/Best Foods. Do not use salad cream.
If working with uncleaned abalone, use a sharp paring knife to cut the muscle that holds the abalone to the shell. Squeeze the abalone to remove the liver, then rinse. Once all of them are clean, use a new toothbrush to scrub the entire surface of each abalone under cool running water. Drain them, then dry them with paper towels. Scrub the shells and dry them with a dish cloth.
Make the anchovy and caper mayonnaise just before frying the abalone. Put the mayonnaise in a small mixing bowl. Finely chop the anchovies and roughly chop the capers, then mix them into the mayonnaise along with the chilli flakes and some black pepper. Divide the mayonnaise between the abalone shells (one for each diner).
Whisk the egg and put it in a shallow bowl. Set up your work station: a shallow bowl of flour, the bowl with the whisked egg, and a shallow bowl of panko.
Once again, blot the abalone with paper towels, so they are as dry as possible. Put them on a plate and lightly sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides.
Pour oil into a skillet to the depth of about 1.5cm (⅔ in) and place the pan over a medium flame. Heat the oil to 170°C (340°F).
When the oil is close to being hot enough, dip an abalone in the flour to coat it lightly but evenly, then shake off the excess. Coat it in the egg, then dredge it in the panko, pressing on the breadcrumbs so they adhere. Place it in the skillet and repeat with the remaining abalone. Do not crowd the skillet; cook them in batches.
Fry the abalone on one side until golden brown, then turn them over and fry the other side until golden brown. They take only five minutes (or less) in total to cook.
Drain on paper towels, then place them on four dinner plates.
Place the abalone shells holding the mayonnaise onto the plates. Garnish with micro greens and finger lime “caviar” or lime wedges before serving.