“Sea cucumbers are echinoderms from the class Holothuroidea. They are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body containing a single, branched gonad. Sea cucumbers are found on the sea floor worldwide. The number of holothurian/ˌhɒlɵˈθjʊəriən/ species worldwide is about 1,717 with the greatest number being in the Asia Pacific region. Many of these are gathered for human consumption and some species are cultivated in aquaculture systems. The harvested product is variously referred to as trepang, bêche-de-mer or balate. Sea cucumbers serve a useful role in the marine ecosystem as they help recycle nutrients, breaking down detritus and other organic matter after which bacteria can continue the degradation process. In recent years, the sea cucumber industry in Alaska has increased due to increased export of the skins and muscles to China. In China, sea cucumbers are farmed commercially in artificial ponds. These ponds can be as large as 400 hectares (1,000 acres) and satisfy much of the local demand. Wild sea cucumbers are caught by divers and these wild Alaskan sea cucumbers have higher nutritional value and are larger than farmed Chinese sea cucumbers. Larger size and higher nutritional value has allowed the Alaskan fisheries to continue to compete for market share, despite the increase in local, Chinese sea cucumber farming. One of Australia’s oldest fisheries is the collection of sea cucumber, harvested by divers from throughout the Coral Sea in far North Queensland, Torres Straits and Western Australia. In the late 1800s there were as many as 400 divers operating from Cook Town, Queensland.” (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_cucumber)
Sea cucumbers is not a seafood that I am very familiar with because my family never really cook this seafood. I get to know sea cucumber only from dining in friends’ family or restaurant. But my wife’s relatives always gave us sea cucumbers as gifts and I have to learn how to cook this dish which is consider as one of the expensive Chinese cooking ingredients.. In Chinese cuisines, they have the same monetary status as gingseng, bird nests, shark fins, abalone etc.. During Chinese New Years, it is one of the presentable gifts to the elders.
Chinese has long consumed this sea creature.. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that this sea creature has almost the same benefits as gingseng （人参）and hence they were called the””sea gingseng (海参)”. It was believed that will help to improve memories, delay aging process, soften arteries and formation of malignant tissues. They are warm to the body, helps in kidney function and prevent impotence.
As I have mentioned before, I am rather new to this sea creatures. What I was given was the already processed sea cucumber done by my wife’s relatives. I do not think I am competent to share with you the methods of soaking and cleaning the dried sea cucumber usually sold in the medical stores. What I knew it needs to soak for a few days, change water twice a day, boil numerous times and change water until the size become 2-3 times the dried size.
Realizing most new chefs do not know how to process these dried sea cucumber, I noticed that in recent years, particularly before Chinese New Year or other important Chinese festivals, most major supermarket also sell the processed sea cucumber. Prices are competitive or rather cheap compared to the dried ones, what you get is a soaked sea cucumber that you can immediately cook in the kitchen.. No prior preparation is required.
I knew there are a few ways of cooking sea cucumbers but the one that I am familiar with is sea cucumber braised with minced meat .. Minced meat are stuffed into the sea cucumber cavity , steamed and served with vegetables and delicious gravy. That is what I am sharing today as I found that the recipe is straight forward and presentable.
WHAT IS REQUIRED
Servings: 6-8 Adult servings
- 1 medium size processed sea cucumber of about 8 inches long
Minced meat filling ingredients
- 200 grams of minced pork
- 50 grams of minced water chestnuts or bamboo shoots
- 1 egg white
- 2 sprigs of coriander leaves
- 1 teaspoon of corn flour (plus additional for dusting)
- Pinches of salt
- Dashes of white paper
- Sugar or seasonings to taste
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 cm long of ginger
Braising sauce ingredients
- 1 tablespoon of corn starch (mixed with 6 tablespoons of water)
- 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
- 1.5 cups of water
- 1 medium size broccoli, clean and cut into big pieces
- About 10 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked until soft
STEPS OF PREPARATION
- Pound the ginger and garlic , extract juices to the minced meat. Add the bamboo shoots, chopped coriander, egg white, corn flour, and seasonings, use a chopstick to stir in one direction until well mixed and looks sticky. Set aside.
- Clean the sea cucumber, drain and pat dry using a kitchen towel. At the cavity of the sea cucumber, sprinkle additional corn starch and make it as dry as possible. Stuff the meat into the cavity and steamed at high heat (in a greased bowl) for 8-10 minutes. Collect any meat juices secreted.
- While the sea cucumber is being steamed, mix the oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, Chinese cooking wine with 1.5 cups of water. Set aside for later use.
- Heat up a pot of water, add a few drops of oil and pinches of salt, bring to boil. Blanch the broccoli for about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- In another pan , put the sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of cooking oil, pan fried both sides of the soaked shitake mushrooms until aromatic which shall take about 5 minutes.
- At the braising ingredient sauce ingredients and steamed sea cucumber, bring to boil and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Dish out the sea cucumber, cut into your desired sizes and transfer to your serving plate. Dish up the shitake mushrooms.
- Add the starch solution and bring to boil.
- In the serving plate with sea cucumber, arrange the blanched broccoli and mushrooms in the pattern that you prefer. Drizzle the sea cucumber with the sauce prepare above. Best served hot from the kitchen with steaming white rice.
i honestly believed that this set of images may frighten away some readers especially those who do not like traditional Chinese ingredients. Well if you like this sea cucumber, I hope you will give it a try. It is definitely a good presentable dish during the Chinese New Year Reunion dinner. How it should be plated, I will leave it to readers to decide.
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