• Abalone from Christie's Seafood, Sydney Fish Market, that's steamed and served whole in the shell with XO sauce (front) and garlic butter (second row). (Yasmin Noone)Source: Yasmin Noone
Abalone is a prized local seafood that's easy to cook, delicious to eat, and valued by cultures the world over. So if it isn't on your summer seafood platter yet, it's time to add some.
Yasmin Noone

8 Dec 2020 - 12:07 PM  UPDATED 4 Nov 2021 - 1:06 PM

Nothing tastes better in summer than a fresh seafood platter, teeming with the rich fruits of our Australian waters. But if you’re a bit prawned out and seriously over salmon, there’s one alternate addition to your summer platter that’s sure to elevate your seafood repertoire to the level of envy: abalone.

“You may have enjoyed your fish and prawns,” says the chair of Mallacoota Abalone Ltd in Victoria, Geoff Ellis. “But you may also get to a point where you’re a bit over it and want to try something new. Abalone is different to the norm, for some people it’s new, and it’s just a beautiful delicacy.”

The single-shelled mollusc is a prized protein, rich in Omega 3 that is valued by cultures the world over. Found along the coastlines off Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and the west coast of North America, abalone is versatile seafood with international appeal. It’s also highly prized in China and an important part of Asian cuisine.

However, says Ellis, it’s unlikely that you’ll find abalone on display at your mainstream supermarket here in Australia. It’s for this reason that people who have not grown up exposed to abalone may not know much about it and therefore underestimate its taste and versatility.

“I think a lot of people have a fear of eating it, as it’s unknown,” says Ellis. "They may also think it’s hard to cook. But it’s really quite easy to use and you can add whatever flavours you like to it.

“Generally, what I like to do is to cut it up thin, put it in the pan, add garlic or ginger and toss it around very quickly. It turns out magnificent.”

Abalone has a subtle flavour and a firm texture. That means it can substitute squid, octopus or cuttlefish in recipes.

Like most seafood, it can be cooked very fast for a few seconds over a high heat or quite slowly over low heat. If presented whole, you can steam it in a clean shell and top it with XO sauce, garlic butter, or lemongrass and ginger. Alternatively, sliced abalone can be pan-fried and added to a pasta or stir-fry. It can also be braised, barbecued or just eaten raw (sashimi).

Crispy coconut abalone with yoghurt herb dip

Abalone can be intimidating to cook with but just treat them like fresh squid and don't overcook! These are simply fried in a coconut crumb and make excellent finger food. The recipe is for a canape sized serve but you can double it for a heartier snack.

Abalone with chilli and garlic

This Italian-inspired recipe uses the perfect flavour partners of chilli and garlic to bring to life one of Tasmania’s finest seafoods – the abalone. You need to use fresh abalone, which can be hard to get hold of, but it would work just as well with calamari too.

Abalone: a culturally versatile seafood

At the time of publication, blacklip abalone was selling at around $60/kg.

“That’s not cheap but it’s also the price of an expensive steak ... Lobster is also expensive and you don’t eat it every day at home but people in Australia have embraced it.”

Stollznow reminds us that although abalone may be new to many people living in Australia, it’s actually got a long national history. It was an important food source for Aboriginal people living along some parts of the coast for thousands of years. “When early settlers from England came across it, they thought it was inedible and called it mutton fish.”

“That’s not cheap but it’s also the price of an expensive steak,” Sydney Fish Market tour guide, Alex Stollznow, tells SBS. “Lobster is also expensive and you don’t eat it every day at home but people in Australia have embraced it.”

It’s believed that Chinese migrants who came to Australia during the gold rush in the mid-1800s were the first non-Indigenous population in the nation to celebrate abalone.

“You can walk from Portugal to Japan and everywhere coastal, you will find people who eat abalone. Italians, Spanish and Koreans love it. New Zealand is also fond of it – they call it ‘Paua’. We are just the odd ones out here in Australia.”

Sake-steamed abalone with liver sauce

Mallacoota abalone: food for good

Celebrity chef and cookbook author, Adam Liaw is no stranger to abalone.  

In this series, Adam Liaw's Road Trip for Good, Liaw dips into Japanese culture for a recipe. He steams abalone in sake and serves it with a side of liver sauce, made using abalone liver, sake, soy sauce and mirin.

Sake-steamed abalone with liver sauce

Liaw also stops by Mallacoota to meet Ellis. It’s here where viewers learn that Mallacoota Abalone Ltd (the co-op) has processed and exported locally caught abalone in a can for over 50 years. However, production came to a standstill when the Black Summer bushfires destroyed the factory on New Year’s Eve 2019.

“It obviously had a big impact on the town as we were its biggest employer,” Ellis tells SBS. 

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A temporary factory was created around April this year. It’s here where locally caught abalone are now shucked and rumbled (cleaned) before they are sent off to Melbourne for canning. “We have a small workforce who assist us in doing that, but we are certainly not back up to full capacity just yet.”

“We’ve been bushfire ravaged. We've also been hit by COVID-19. So to have greater domestic influence in demand for the product would assist us to no end.”

Ellis believes that canning could resume in Mallacoota soon and the co-op will return to its glory days. In the meantime, his main hope is that consumers around Australia will buy abalone and add it to their summer seafood spread.

“To lift the profile of wild caught abalone is exceedingly important,” says Ellis. “We’ve been bushfire ravaged. We've also been hit by COVID-19. So to have greater domestic influence in demand for the product would assist us to no end.”

Abalone and Asian mushroom omelette

The humble omelette gets a luxury upgrade from chef Frank Shek. Food Safari Water

Abalone with snow pea tendrils and butter sauce

Abalone is a great conductor of other flavours. If you have larger abalone, this is a great way to deal with them. You’ll need a very sharp knife and a very hot pan - the secret is to be really quick. Peter Kuruvita's Coastal Kitchen

Tempura abalone

This is a fast and easy introduction to the luxurious Australian seafood, using a handful of pantry staples.