Sea snails are a kind of shellfish considered seafood delicacies in some parts of the world; families include Buccinidae, commonly known as whelk, and Haliotidae, known as abalone (pronounced ab-ah-low-nee). The first molluscs are found near Atlantic coasts, and are well appreciated in Europe, particularly the U.K., and France (where they are called bourgot); the latter are the Pacific Ocean counterpart, highly regarded and harvested in most of Asia and Oceania, and in California (in the US), Baja California peninsula (in Mexico), and Chile. For centuries, abalone was over-harvested, and many countries now have to resort to bans of abalone fisheries, sometimes for years, and control harvesting seasons and quotas very strictly. On the other hand, farming has taken over most of abalone production, and nowadays, about 95% of the abalone world supply is farmed; there are close to one hundred species of abalone worldwide, and around 15 species are grown in aquaculture. In Mexico, there are six species, found in the west coast of the Baja California peninsula.
In the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, Isla Natividad and La Bocana are two sites where local co-operatives were established at the turn of the century, with the sole purport of responsibly manage the restoration, conservation and harvest of pink abalone (Haliotis corrugata), and green abalone (Haliotis fulgens). There are short harvesting seasons in late spring and during the month of July; fresh abalone is shucked, cleaned, and tenderized before eaten raw, or cooked in seafood platters and dishes, such as Beach Cocktail – Coctel playero.
Abalone fishery in British Columbia, Canada was closed in 1990, and it continues to be illegal to harvest or sell Northern Abalone in the country because populations are still critically low. Therefore, since fresh abalone is close to impossible to find in Canada, dried, frozen and canned abalone are desirable (yet expensive) alternatives. One of my husband’s friends from grad school kindly and generously gave us a can from Chile (photo below, left); it contained four of the precious molluscs, about three inches in length each (photo below, right):
If abalone is not available or just too expensive, this cocktail may also be prepared with cooked clams or squid.
Beach Cocktail – Coctel playero
1 can abalone, with its juice (OR clams, OR 1 medium cooked squid)
4 limes (2 for juice, 2 for serving)
2 tbsp mayonnaise
¼ white onion; peeled and chopped finely
1 avocado; washed, peeled, pitted and cubed
2 tomatoes; washed, stem spot removed, and chopped
Cilantro, to taste; washed, roots removed
1 tbsp vinegar, OR juice from pickled jalapeños (click here for my recipe, or from can)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Soda crackers, for serving
Bottled hot sauce, such as Huichol™, for serving, optional
Drain juice from can (or cooking liquid) into a measuring cup; reserve about 1 cup. Chop seafood; for abalone, first slice lengthwise, then cut across (photo below, left). Add to a bowl along with tomatoes, onions, and avocado (photo below, right):
Pour the reserved juice (or cooking liquid) into a blender jar, then add mayonnaise, juice from two of the limes, vinegar, and cilantro (photo below, left). Process for a few seconds, until uniform (photo below, right):
Pour sauce into the bowl (photo below, left). Season with salt and black pepper, to taste, and mix everything together with a spoon (photo below, right):
This cocktail may be eaten right away, but it is nicer if allowed to rest in the fridge for a couple of hours, to overnight.
Serve with lime wedges, soda crackers, and bottled hot sauce on the side:
This dish may be a delicious first course, or a light lunch. I liked the slightly chewy texture, and mild and almost sweet taste of the abalone, complemented perfectly by the mixture of fresh veggies and citrus flavour.
The Japanese have had a special fondness for abalone since ancient times, as evidenced by the many abalone shells found in prehistoric shell mounds across Japan. Ama are people who dive to harvest pearls and specifically, abalone, a cultural institution that has been recorded in poetry and paintings. During the Edo period (1603-1868) dried abalone was one of the three marine exports from Japan that were especially prized in China (the other two were dried sea cucumber and shark fin.)
Abalone mother of pearl from its shell has also been valued throughout history. Native groups along the Baja California and California coastlines made extensive use of abalone shells in everyday life, and in all sorts of bijoux and other carved art, as shown in archaeological sites there, and as far as northern Utah and Texas.
The earliest commercial abalone fishermen along the Baja California Peninsula were Chinese immigrants in the 18th century, followed by Japanese, and then, local Mexicans.
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I am sharing my post at Thursday Favourite Things #553, with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.