Abalone, sea cucumber etc.
I would like to try out several of the more unusual sea creatures, such as abalone and sea cucumber, given that I like sea urchin a lot.
How do I tell if a sea cucumber is "good"? Which dishes at which restaurants should I try?
abalone is a wonderful thing but it is highly regulated (quotas on harvesting) and requires alot of work/expense to soften and make edible. i know nothing of its availability in Chinatown, but in non Asian owned restaurants,in Boston, you are most likely to find it in very high end places. Maybe Clio, OYa. Michael Serpa, the Neptune Oyster chef, was telling me recently about the prohibitive wholesale cost of it. ( He did tell me, however, that he hopes to add sturgeon to the N.O. menu this winter. That's a fish you almost never see here; very unusual earthy flavor.) Both abalone and sturgeon are farmed on the west coast, but iirc, there is an east coast abalone as well.
there are over 100 species of this, but none in this region. most abalone we'd get would come from california. the harvest season for wild abalone finished there on 12/1, and in sonoma was ended 2 months early because of red tide.
tasmania, australia and nz are open-seaon now, but not much of that gets here. most goes to asia.
unless you know the abalone is fresh and not frozen, it's totally not worth bothering. call clio or o ya.
i had sturgeon at neptune under a previous chef and it was incredibly good.
none of these creatures are anything like sea urchin. i could eat urchin everyday of my life and never tire of it. i've had abalone a few times and, meh. wouldn't turn it down, but it would not be my first pick. go for live local scallop instead. sea cukes? blech. don't bother. have had jellyfish a few ways and really liked that too.
you are right - sea cucumber is all about texture. it is something that non-chinese diners have been perplexed by, given its lack of flavor. a good rendition in a chinese restaurant is one that is braised in a very rich brown stock or broth.
there is more flavor in abalone though, if it is not prepared well, it will be rubbery.