Sea Cucumber As Food

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Sea cucumbers destined for food are traditionally harvested by hand on small watercraft; a process known as trepanging. It is dried for preservation purposes and has to be rehydrated by boiling and soaking in water for several days for the sea cucumber to absorb the liquid back. It is mainly used as an ingredient in soup or stew.

There are many of commercially important species that are harvested and dried for export for use in Chinese cuisine as Hoi sam. Some of the more commonly found species in markets include:

* Holothuria scabra

* Holothuria fuscogilva

* Actinopyga mauritiana

* Stichius japonicus

* Parastichopus californicus

* Thelenota ananas

* Acaudina molpadioides

Western Australia has trepang fisheries from Exmouth to the border of the Northern Territory, almost all of the catch is sandfish (Holothuria scabra). The fishing of the various species known as BÍche-de-mer is regulated by state and federal legislation. Five other species are targeted in the state's BÍche-de-mer harvest, these are Holothuria noblis (white teatfish); Holothuria whitmaei (black teatfish); Thelenota ananas (prickly redfish); Actinopyga echninitis (deep-water redfish); and Holothuria atra (lolly fish).

The largest American species is Holothuria floridana, which abounds just below low-water mark on the Florida reefs. There are plans to harvest this species for the sea cucumber market.

The trade in Trepang, between Macassans seafarers and the aborigines of Arnhem Land, to supply the markets of Southern China is the first recorded example of trade between the inhabitants of the Australian continent and their Asian neighbours

The Asian market for sea cucumber is estimated to be US$60 million. The dried form account for 95% traded annually in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea, and Japan] and are typically used in Chinese cuisines. The biggest re-exporter in the trade is China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. There are also 650 species of sea cucumbers, of which just 10 species have commercial value.

Known as " bÍcher-de-mer " in French or the not so appetizing name " sea rat " or " sea slug ", the sea cucumber prized for its gelatinous texture has been a delicacy in Chinese cuisine since ancient times, often served in Chinese banquets, among other revered dishes such as the shark's fin soup. It's not a vegetable, but a marine animal that is soft and cylindrical, resembles a cucumber and hence the name.

In Chinese, the sea cucumber is called "Hai Sen" or "sea ginseng" is a "yang" or "heaty" food, reputed to be a general tonic and aphrodisiac. Rich in iron and contains minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc, the sea cucumber has been known to help ease arthritis pain and relief joints discomfort..

Often sold in dried hard form, preparing dried sea cucumber can be time consuming and requires a lot of work. After removing the skin, you have to reconstitute it in water which is drained daily for 4 days, occasionally wash it under running water, boil it with slices or ginger or pineapple skin in between to remove the "fishy" odor, so that it expands to several times its original size and becomes soft again. Drain and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use. Not prepared properly, it can have a rubbery-tough-to-chew texture that can be unappealing and taste wrong. As for fresh sea cucumber, expanded and sold soaked in water, which can sometimes be found in Chinese markets, needs only a rinse and boil the same way described above. The best kind of fresh sea cucumber is black in color, with smooth surface and fine gloss

The trepang can be cooked in many ways - stewed with ribs, stir fried in black pepper sauce, or boiled in chicken stocks. The rather bland tasting has the ability to absorb and accentuate the flavors of the ingredients in which it is cooked with and is best cooked in rich broth. The feeling of succulent jelly-like texture of trepang infused with the flavorful stock in your mouth is a must for food gourmet.

Article was written by Kelvin Too

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