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sea cucumbers

I know you see them in various Chinese cuisines, but do other Asian countries also cook with them? What about beyond the Asian continent?

Just curious—I don't think I've ever had them before.

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  1. Yes, they are popular in Northern Japan, but largely unknown in other places in Japan.

    1. Koreans love sea cucumber sashimi. It's a VERY acquired taste IMHO, and requires the accompaniment of Soju.

      I also love the chinese braised preparations.

      2 Replies
      1. re: joonjoon

        Ah, well, requiring the accompaniment of soju is only a plus in my book.

        I saw it on a mostly Vietnamese menu in a hot pot with mushrooms and tofu, so I was wondering if they're used in Vietnam too—but a few Chinese dishes are sprinkled throughout so I'm guessing it's that then.

        1. In Japan, it is served as sunomono -- marinated in vinegar as a salad-like appetizer. It is called "namako" and people first cut the ends off, split it down the middle and gut it before marinating.
          Actually, I like it best in Chinese food.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Tripeler

            I never had Hoya, but would you say the texture is similar to sea cucumber?

            I like the Cantonese Chinese prep too, usually braised and served with greens and webbed goose feet.

          2. Several decades ago, when my second husband worked at Scripps Institute of Oceanography as a scuba diver on a deep sea wave research project, he used to "shop for dinner" on his way back in from the buoys. He regularly brought home such things as sea cucumber, sea snails, barnacles, keyhole limpets, turban snails, urchins, abalone, octopus and all sorts of other critters that most folks don't even know about, let alone eat. But it's been a while since the last time I cooked fresh sea cucumber. But in a word, YES! They are edible. Not quite as much work to clean as an abalone, but they do have to be cleaned and, as I recall, I skinned mine. They require braising or they're tough. I only tried to pound one once the way I pounded abalone to tenderize it, and never tried that trick again! They don't have a lot of flavor on their own, but lend themselves nicely to very subtle Japanese type soups, and they're also an interesting addition to seafood stews. I do recall using barnacles, sea cucumber, keyhole limpets and any sort of firm white fish in a quasi cioppino. I say quasi because I've never seen sea cucumbers in a San Francisco fish stew, let alone a barnacle. But you can find sea cucumbers in SF Chinatown restaurants. They just want an arm and a leg for them, but if you have a diver in the family, like abalone and a lot of other good stuff, they're free...!!!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Caroline1

              Thanks for sharing that neat story!

              I fondly remember watching the sea cucumber divers up in the San Juan islands. I had some sea cucumber, raw, fresh out of the water. I thought it was gross, but I was 14. ;-) I happened to be attending a Japanese/American marine biology summer camp at the time, and as I recall my Japanese friends really liked it.

            2. We were served a dish (I think soup) containing sea cucumber in Singapore.I thought it was vile stuff.

              1. Well, I do this with sea cucumbers (amongst many other things) ...

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/739904

                1 Reply
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Okay. No doubt about it. You've got the creativity award in your pocket for this month. Maybe even this year! If I thought there was a chance of me EVER making a meat loaf that doesn't give anyone who tastes it terminal indigestion, I'd give it a try! hmmm...

                2. I love them, but they are an acquired taste, esp. for non-Asians (just ask my husband!).

                  38 Replies
                  1. re: gloriousfood

                    Perhaps one way around it is instead of focusing in on the taste of sea cucumber, think like the Chinese do: texture! It is one of the foods in China appreciated for its texture, not taste. High end sea cucumber sells for over US$ 2000 a pound in China!

                    1. re: scoopG

                      Agree. I don't think many Chinese go for the taste of them.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Sea cucumbers are essentially tasteless.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I think it is because of the tacky clothing they choose to wear.

                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Taste? I always thought sea cucumber was all about the texture (dried/reconstituted or fresh). Sea cucumber roe on the other hand does have taste (mostly briny) with the only drawback being that it's freakingly expensive.

                          1. re: wattacetti

                            Sorry about not being more clear. I was agreeing with scoopG that in fact sea cucumber is about texture and not about taste.

                        3. re: scoopG

                          Then I will say it's an acquired texture, ha ha.

                          1. re: gloriousfood

                            Not really. Certainly not to any Chinese diner (or anyone else) who understands the importance of texture in eating.

                            1. re: scoopG

                              I will politely disagree based on my experience eating this dish with non-Asians.

                              1. re: gloriousfood

                                Non-Asian here, loved sea cucumber the first time I tried it, order it whenever I see it on a menu (and it doesn't cost the earth).

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Is it? That's good to know, 'cause I've seen it referred to as endangered. Do you give any credence to these reports?

                                    http://www.sdupdate.org/index.php?opt...

                                    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blo...

                                    1. re: small h

                                      I'm sure *some* species of wild sea cucumbers (there are literally hundreds of different species) may be endangered, but I was referring to farmed sea cucumbers.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        I see. I will continue to partake, then, since it's very likely farmed sea cucumber is what's available to me, anyway.

                                      2. re: small h

                                        small h, That first photo looks like sea worms to me, not sea cucumbers.

                                        1. re: scoopG

                                          Here are some dried sea cucumbers on sale in Qingdao.

                                           
                                          1. re: scoopG

                                            I just saw some yesterday in Chinatown. I don't know if I have ever tried the dried ones. They are expensive.

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Well, I had a "special dish" over the CNY period at a restaurant in my area, that had sea cucumbers as a main ingredient, and it didn't cost an arm and a leg. Quite a modest price, in fact, but no doubt not the best quality dried stuff was used. I ended up fishing out all the sea cucumber pieces I could find (a decent amount) to munch on (crunch, crunch!) and drank most of the nice stock, leaving behind most of the chicken. (The dish was "old chicken braised with sea cucumbers" 老鸡烩海参 or traditional characters 老鷄燴海參)

                                              1. re: huiray

                                                I may have a bad memory now, but I remotely remember the dried sea cucumbers cost more than the fresh ones. Is that normal?

                                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                  I may have a bad memory now, but I remotely remember the dried sea cucumbers cost more than the fresh ones. Is that normal?
                                                  _____________

                                                  Yes.

                                          2. re: scoopG

                                            I'm no expert on these things - just going by the text on the site. They, uh, look like something else to me, but I'm not going there.

                                            1. re: scoopG

                                              Sea worms? I think you're kidding, right? They look like skinned sea cucumbers to me. Hey, if I can find them already skinned, that's for me!

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                No, those are Sea Worms. Here's a video of them in action:

                                                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpstvN...

                                                Photo of Sea Cucumber below...

                                                 
                                                1. re: scoopG

                                                  Not all sea cucumbers look alike. The ones we used to eat freshly harvested from the coast off San Diego looked very much like the ones I asked if you were kidding about, once they were skinned. That species didn't have the spikiness of those in the picture you show, so who knows? You may be right.. Anyway, I can't remember ever eating anything from the sea I didn't like... Well, unless it was badly prepared. Seafood is good food...!

                                        2. re: small h

                                          c oliver and I saw many varieties of sea cucumber for sale in NYC Chinatown yesterday, some for as much as $80/lb!

                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                            Sad, they are so defenseless in their natural habitat, because NOTHING in the ocean wants to eat them. Just Asians.

                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              Dried ones. And SO many varieties.

                                              We had them at Paco Meralgo in Barcelona and they were wonderful. As small h said above, I'd order them if I saw them on a menu. Can't understand anyone thinking otherwise.

                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                I just checked New Kam Man's website: dried sea cucumber there is $128.50/lb. I wonder how refined one's tastebuds need to be to distinguish between the various grades. I'd like to buy, say, a few dried scallops in a range of prices and compare them.

                                                1. re: small h

                                                  The NYC ones went up to $100/# IIRC. There were there with the dried mushrooms and we had to look at the label so know what they were :)

                                                  1. re: small h

                                                    There are significant differences between quality and mediocre dehydrated sea cucumbers. Same with conpoy.

                                                    It's worth spending the extra money. Just like it is with good quality EVOO that you intend to use as a "finishing oil".

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      Can you describe how that difference manifests itself? I just had pea shoots with shredded dried scallop at Legend (the UWS one), so I've got conpoy on the brain.

                                                      1. re: small h

                                                        Here's a previous discussion that K K and I had about conpoy, and its qualities (taste, texture, etc.), that you might find interesting and helpful.

                                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7607...

                                                        Now, I've got conpoy on my brain. Damn you!

                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                          Thanks for the link - that answered my question very well. And I assumed that conpoy was only sold in 1 lb increments, so good to know that it's not. (Ever try to buy less than a pound of say, fresh lichees, in Chinatown? You can't. Or I can't, anyway.)

                                                          1. re: small h

                                                            Damn you. Now I have lychee on the brain. Fresh ones, no less.

                                                            Curses.

                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                              Sorry. I didn't realize how contagious my appetite was. I'm a regular Thai Food Mary (ducks, flees).

                                        3. re: scoopG

                                          I spent 2 weeks in China last year and had my first experiences with sea cucumber. While in Wenzhou I had a preparation of raw sea cucumber, diced into small bits, served chilled in a soupy mixture that had rice wine, wasabi and ginger among other things. It was delightful!! I absolutely loved the chewy texture of the bits of sea cucumber. I was the only non-Chinese person at the meal, and none of them spoke the best English, so I wasn't able to get a really good handle on all of the ingredients and technique. If I had, I'd be making it at home-- it was that good!

                                          However, while in in Haining, I was served whole sea cucumber which was braised and I coulndn't stomach the texture. I ate a few bites to be polite, but it was all I could do to swallow. Funny how I can name it as both one of the best things I ate while in China and one of the worst!

                                           
                                          1. re: sparkplug

                                            I actually like it in bigger piece maybe not whole. Thanks for the picture and the report.

                                          2. re: scoopG

                                            it's a symbol of wealth. I grew up eating that at every banquet and I rarely see the dish finished.

                                        4. I like to soak them , chop them fine, and add to noodle soups. You get a little burst of the ocean every now and then.

                                          3 Replies
                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              I had sea squirts in Chile, the thrill of which was mainly the chance to say I ate sea squirts—not much flavor there either, at least just boiled and chilled...They're not available in the States though, are they?

                                              1. re: tatamagouche

                                                Yes, they are.

                                                I can get them at my Chinese and Korean markets.

                                          1. I don't understand the appeal- they are like Vulcanized tofu.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. There was a nice little sea cucmber recipe showing on a cooking programme we have over here called 'The Cook and The Chef'. I have to say the final result looked delicious. Here's the link:

                                              http://www.abc.net.au/tv/cookandchef/...

                                              1. Oh and just to add this particular show did a section on sea cucumbers being farmed in Australia. The guy who's doing the farming is up in Darwin (The far north of Australia) and mainly exports to the Asian market.

                                                1. I was served a very large whole one in China at a very fancy dinner. Giant sea slugs. No thanks. I could see eating a few bites in a soup or stew, but eating that entire slug was probably the least pleasant dining experience I have ever had.

                                                  1. i'm curious about
                                                    Hoi Sum (sea cucumber) braised with pork, dried flower mushrooms and dried 'wong kai lon' (a type of dried cuttlefish).

                                                    can you show me images of any of the sea cucumber before it goes into such a dish?
                                                    how about the dried cuttlefish?
                                                    would a prepared sea cucumber section ever resemble a pale creamy large flat mushroom with a firmer "bite"?
                                                    what about baby sea cucumber: how is it prepared?

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: alkapal

                                                      Below are images of sea cucumbers before they are re-hydrated and cooked.

                                                      The one on the far right is one that has been hydrated and cooked. And, no, it would not have a firmer "bite" than a mushroom.

                                                       
                                                       
                                                       
                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                        thanks. i had already googled images. what i'm seeking is one cleaned and unadorned with sauce, prepped to go into a dish. of course i have learned there are many different varieties, too.

                                                        is the flesh always dark, or is it ever creamy?

                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                          Grey-ish, translucent would be how I would describe it post-prep and pre-sauced.

                                                          1. re: alkapal

                                                            There are fresh sea cucumbers and dried sea cucumbers. Good luck.

                                                            1. re: alkapal

                                                              here is my photo of a recent dish we got at hong long pearl restaurant in falls church, virginia., with baby sea cucumber (now identified) on the spoonula in the photo. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8213...

                                                              it is all about the rubbery texture, as there was not really much flavor other than the sauce. mr. alka liked it, and i found it just fine -- esp, if i didn't think of how it looks in the wild. ;-).

                                                               
                                                        2. I love sea cucumber sashimi...yummmy...love the taste and the texture. too bad it's hard to get fresh ones in US.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Monica

                                                            If you have an H Mart near you you can get fresh live ones that are flown in from Korea!

                                                            1. re: joonjoon

                                                              I should check out H mart in Ridgefield, NJ...The closest one from is the one in Englewood but they don't have sea cucumber. Thanks for the tip. I really want it now.
                                                              What other sea delicacies should I try out?

                                                              1. re: Monica

                                                                The one in Ridgefield definitely has it.

                                                                Korean street sashimi 1-2 is sea cucumber and sea pineapple (멍게) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_pine...).

                                                                Other than that, they'll have live abalone and penis fish (개불) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urechis_...). They some times have this in stock.

                                                                Sea Urchin is always delicious, of course.

                                                                That's all I can think of for now...

                                                          2. A legendary Japanese dish is the fermented entrails of sea cucumber ...KONOWATA

                                                              1. During childhood growing up in Seoul, my dad used to order 海參肘子 (braised pork and sea cucumber? correct me if I am wrong) every so often when we eat out. I never touched it then, but is this something I could find in say NYC, Philly, or DC? If so I would love to try it, and perhaps surprise my dad with it.

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: Kurtis

                                                                  Lao Dong Bei in Flushing has this dish.

                                                                  Most Chinese restaurants with a seafood menu will offer this prep for sea cucumbers and more likely it will be called something like "海參扒肘子".

                                                                  Good luck and hope that helps.

                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      I don't know so I'll ask: is this made with dried cucumbers?

                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                        http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/din...

                                                                        I'm sorry we missed this when we were in Flushing the other day. Next time.