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 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.

Fresh abalone schnitzel with anchovy and caper mayonnaise

When I lived in California, high-end seafood restaurants often served a simple but delicious dish of large abalone that had been sliced, pounded to tenderise, and dipped in batter and breadcrumbs before being pan-fried.

I wanted to try making a similar dish using the small fresh abalone common­ly available in Hong Kong. To my surprise, my first attempt was a success: the abalone were wonderfully tender, even though I had not pounded them. This is one of the easiest, quickest and most delicious ways to cook small fresh abalone.

Buy the abalone as close as possible to the time you’re going to cook the meal, and have the seafood vendor clean them. Keep a few shells to use for the mayonnaise. I serve three or four abalone as a main course, with side dishes.

12-16 fresh abalone, with body size about 5cm long
1 or 2 eggs, as needed

Plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting

Panko, for dredging

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cooking oil, for frying

For the anchovy and caper mayonnaise:
300 grams mayonnaise (I use Hellmann’s; do not use salad cream)

6-8 anchovies in olive oil, drained
18 (or more) small capers in brine, drained

To garnish:
Micro greens

Finger limes or Thai limes

Rinse the abalone thoroughly under running water, then drain them. 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 the ingredients into the mayonnaise along with 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 whisked egg and a shallow bowl of panko. Blot as much moisture as possible from the abalone. Put them on a plate and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Pour some oil into a skillet to the depth of about 1cm and place it over a medium flame. Heat the oil to 170 degrees Celsius.

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 do the same to the remaining abalone. Do not crowd the skillet; cook them in batches. Fry on one side until golden brown, then turn the abalone over and fry the other side. They take only five minutes (or less) in total to cook. Drain on paper towels, then place them on serving plates. Add a portion of the anchovy and caper mayon­naise to each plate, then garnish with micro greens and finger lime “caviar” or Thai lime wedges before serving.


Steamed abalone with garlic, mung bean noodles, spring onion and fresh coriander

As with the first recipe, have the seafood vendor clean the abalone, but keep the shells.

12 fresh abalone, with body size about 5cm long
30 grams mung bean noodles

2-3 large garlic cloves

About 30ml soy sauce

About 45ml cooking oil

2-4 spring onions

A handful of fresh coriander leaves

Soak the mung bean noodles in warm water until pliable, then drain them and squeeze out the excess water. Cut the noodles into shorter lengths.

Finely mince the garlic cloves. Slice the spring onions lengthwise into fine shreds, then cut into 2cm lengths.

Place the abalone (in their shells) in one layer on a heatproof dish. Place some of the mung bean noodles over each abalone, then scatter the minced garlic on top. Pour a little soy sauce into each shell. Place the dish on a steamer rack over boiling water and cover with the lid. Steam for five to eight minutes, or until the abalone are cooked.

Just before the abalone are ready, heat the oil until hot. When the abalone are cooked, take the dish from the steamer. Spread the spring onion and coriander over the abalone, then pour the hot oil on top to sizzle the aromatics. Serve immedi­ately. Serves four to six as part of a Chinese meal.