Gutting Sea Cucumbers
Sometimes, a foodie will go out of the way to prepare something difficult and complicated or do something no one else would do in their right mind, just for the sake of it. When my father asked me to search on the net to find information on how sea cucumbers were prepared, i didn't find much. Yet I figured, what the hell, how hard can it be? Turns out it was alot of work for very little reward.
Firstly, when alive and fresh from the sea, these sea cucumbers look really huge fat and full of delish potential. Once one gains a deeper insight into sea cucumber anatomy however, these things are the great shrinkers. When 'attacked' or 'near death' I'd rather say, these blighters spew out all their innards, alot of which consists of sand and intestines and liver and whatnot. All of which look completely inedible, although i know in Korea and Japan the intestines and other assorted innards are considered a delicacy. (I won't be too surprised at how delicacious* they are.. imagine cleaning sand filled intestines and then curing them without turning them into sieves..) They were so tiny when everything was done I had to supplement the dish with store-bought frozen sea cucumber... 5 weren't enough even though they weighed more than 3 kilos at the start. In the end it was more like 300 grams.
Secondly, the whole process involved the killing, cleaning, boiling, removing the muscles, then reboiling i think (but more on this step later since i didn't do it) and then cooking in preferred way. It was not that bad, except that my sea cucumber had a weird aftertaste even after stewing with dark sauce and fresh duck.. like.. limey in a calcium carbonate, not fresh green citrus kind of way. Not very pleasant. I don't know whether it was my preparation method, or the variety of sea cucumber (for all I know it wasn't even an edible variety, maybe not poisonous just not tasty, but my entire family is still alive and kicking...) It took me 3 hours from the start point till cleanup which meant slipping the prepared sea cucumbers in a box into a fridge because the stewing had to wait. I was too exhausted by then.
(same plate, before and after boiling... compare the size... it got even smaller..)
Well, that said, despite the not so pleasant results, I did learn a few things from this experience. I need to appreciate sea cucumbers more, so much work goes into preparing them and the process cannot be mechanized. Next time I want to cook sea cucumber I will either buy dried or frozen. I doubt I'm up to killing sea cucumber. Technically i didn't kill them, my sister did, but I had to clean the still moving split open sea cucumbers, and hang around for the killing so it was just as bad. Sea cucumber stewed with duck over a charcoal stove is really very great tasting I have to say, and is a definite dish in my extending repertoire of favourites, since now I know what spices my mother uses to flavour the sauce.
*delicacious - word from my personal dictionary. meaning the status of a food item as an expensive delicious delicacy.