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Cooking sea cucumbers

Without a permit it is not legal to collect holothurians from marine parks, however, beche-de-mer may be available through some eastern food outlets. The dried skin of selected species (notably Actinopyga spp., Holothuria (Microthele) nobilis and Thelenota ananas) may be pickled or added to soups and stews. It has a very high protein content and is much prized in some areas of Asia especially China. The reasons the chinese favour these animals may relate to their enthusiasm for aphrodisiacs - certainly some holothurians are quite phallic and the habit of some to extrude white cuvierian tubules adds to the image. The preparation of sea cucumbers for sale is arduous. Firstly, the fresh animal is washed well and boiled: the larger ones are split open and the guts removed, smaller ones are treated whole. It may then be immersed in sand for two nights after which it is brushed firmly to remove sand and the outer skin layer. Boiling water is then poured over it prior to drying it over a fire.

Conditioning before cooking
The purchased dry sea cucumber must be pre-conditioned before cooking.

1) Cover with cold water and soak for 12 hours.
2) Simmer for 1-2 hours; ensure always covered with water.
3) Cool to room temperature and drain. Slit open and remove guts if necessary. This procedure may be repeated several times to ensure the animals are thoroughly cleaned.
4) Finally soak for 1-2 hours immediately prior to cooking as they must be soft and swollen.

In the rest of this module are some recipes for the culinary adventurer.

Pork balls and sea cucumbers
500g pre-conditioned sea cucumber
3 cups oil for frying
1 tbsp cornstarch

2 stalks green onion
2 slices ginger root
1 tbsp rice wine
5 cups water

1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp MSG
1/2 egg
1 tbsp cornstarch

250g chopped pork
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp water

1 tbsp black bean paste
1/2 tbsp chopped garlic

1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp MSG
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup stock

Cut sea cucumbers into small pieces and cook for 5 minutes in onion, ginger, wine and water. Drain and discard liquid.

Mix pork with egg, salt, MSG and cornstarch. Roll into 14 balls and deep fry over medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove and drain.

Heat pan and 3 tbsp of oil and stir-fry bean paste and garlic, add 1 tbsp of wine and oyster sauce, stock and spices and bring to a boil. Add sea cucumbers and pork balls and simmer until sauce nearly dry (about 10 minutes), add cornstarch and 1 tbsp of oil to thicken and toss ingredients to cover in sauce.

Remove and serve.

Hoy Sum
A basic recipe from Hong Kong.

6 sea cucumbers (pre-conditioned)
1 tbsp lard
a little MSG
1 clove garlic (chopped)
1/2 tsp minced onion
1/2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 soupbowl chicken stock
1 tbsp Chinese wine

1 tsp light soy sauce
salt to taste

a dash of dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch in water

Boil sea cucumbers in water for a few minutes and discard the water.

Heat lard in a pan and briefly fry garlic, onion and ginger before adding other ingredients except the cornstarch. Simmer for 10 minutes, thicken sauce with cornstarch and pour over the sea cucumbers and serve.

Braised stuffed sea cucumbers
Cantonese dish to serve 12.

500g sea cucumber (4 whole animals)
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp chopped, fried and dried fish i.e.'bien yu gan'

2 stalks green onion
2 stalks ginger
1 tbsp rice wine
4 cups water

3 cups stock (+ 1/2 tsp sesame oil)
1/2 tsp salt (+ 1/4 tsp black pepper)
1/2 tsp MSG

250g chopped pork
8 toothpicks
1/2 tbsp rice wine

1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup water

1/2 tsp MSG
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp water

Stir fry onion and ginger in pan with 1 tbsp of oil, add 1 tbsp of rice wine and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add pre-conditioned sea cucumbers and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat, drain and discard liquid.

Mix filling: pork, 2 tbsp cornstarch and fried, dried fish.

Dust inside of each animal with cornstarch and stuff with filling, secure with toothpicks.

Reheat pan and 2 tbsp of oil, add 1/2 tbsp rice wine and stock, salt and MSG and bring to boil. Add stuffed sea cucumbers, cover and simmer for 25 minutes to reduce liquid to about I cup. Remove sea-cucumbers, discard toothpicks; heat remaining liquid and add 1 tsp of cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water to thicken sauce.

Pour sauce over sea cucumbers and serve.