My brother Paul has recently changed his work arrangements and is available for kayaking, abalone diving, or SCUBA diving on week days. Of course as soon as he started getting mornings off, the swells at sea perversely got too high for these activities. Finally after almost two weeks of this, things calmed down and the two of us planned an abalone dive for Friday morning. I wanted to fill my freezer before the end of the season and figured that Russian Gulch was the place where we would be most likely to get our limit of abalone. We planned to go right around the corner south of the beach, so we only needed one kayak. We discovered that I had forgotten one of the life vests and Paul had forgotten his diving mask. We still had one of each and decided to proceed and switch off the vest and the mask with the guy in the kayak or the water. This meant that we had to bypass the buddy system protocol again.
So Paul put on the mask and I helped pull him just 200 meters around the south point to the place where my last diving buddy found four nine inch abalone. Since he was in the water already, Paul went diving first while I paddled in place nearby. I find that if my hands are on the paddles, I am comfortable close to the rocks in the kayak. Much closer than I am comfortable leaving the kayak unattended and tied up to the kelp.
I counted the seconds every time Paul dove, wondering what I was going to do if he did not come back up. He never stayed down long and complained about being out of shape. But after a few dives he came up with a respectable eight inch abalone. He decided that one was more than enough for dinner and he could quit with that. We switched equipment and I stared diving. As my confidence increased, I got closer and closer to the rocky shore and dove in shallower and shallower water. I also worked my way farther south around the point. I had to dive five times for each of them, but I found and plucked two enormous abalone, almost ten inches each. Although I had gone out with the plan of getting my limit to help fill my freezer, I stopped with these two large abalone.
Paul has developed a technique of using his buoyancy compensator (BC) in place of a float when abalone diving. He can inflate it by exhaling into it at the surface, or allow the water pressure to deflate it when he wants to dive. When we were ready to go he inflated his BC way up, until it was as buoyant as a life vest, then and started swimming back. He got over 100 meters before I got the abalone and my diving gear stowed in the kayak. So much for being out of shape. Then I caught up with him and helped tow him the rest of the way around the point and onto the beach. I had read an article about landing on rough beaches with a sea anchor once, and we had tried this before, using Paul as my anchor. This time, I asked Paul to hang on to the tail of the kayak as long as he could. With him as my anchor, we paddled right up to shore until I was looking down at the sand under the nose of the kayak. When Paul's feet hit bottom, he let go and the kayak zoomed up the beach on a breaker. This could be an effective way to land two people safely on a rough beach.
We hauled all the equipment in two trips, coming back for the kayak in street clothes and better shoes. Then we drove home to shell our catch and wash our equipment. Paul went home and I went on to tenderize my abalone and cook some of it for lunch.
I have wondered if you could tenderize an abalone by running it through a meat grinder. I had what I thought was a meat grinder. It had been converted to a hand-powered flour mill years ago by replacing the plates with stone grinding plates. I recently took it out, washed it, and put the steel plates back on. It turns out that even the steel plates were designed for cracking grain, not grinding meat. These plates had very thin spiral grooves one millimeter wide and less than a millimeter deep. I figured it would do a fine job of grinding the tough abalone meat, and gave it a try. I cut up strips of abalone and started feeding them into the mill. The crank turned effortlessly, which is not how I remember it working when grinding flour. Abalone is slippery, and the screw could not get much of a grip on it. But eventually it got going and a large amount of meat disappeared into the mill with nothing coming out. I cut up some more, and finally a white paste started coming out the business end. I produced around three quarters of a pound of this, including the pieces that stuck inside the mill which where pounded the old fashioned way when I cleaned up. I rolled balls of this in flour, just to keep it from sticking to my fingers, and pushed it into large thin paddies that I fried to put between bread for sandwiches. It cooked back into a solid texture, much like well pounded abalone but with a little bit of a graininess to the texture.
I saved some of the ground up abalone for a cooking experiment at dinner time that was inspired by my dishwater at a recent camping trip in Mendocino. I sliced three small squash (one zucchini, one crook- neck, one summer) , a red bell pepper, and a handful of mushrooms. These were stirred in a small frying pan with a little bit of olive oil at medium heat until the squash started to brown a little. I then added just a dash of soy sauce and enough Mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine, cooking sherry would do) to cover the bottom. I threw in a small sliced up tomato just because I had one. I put a tight lid on the frying pan and let it simmer for a while on low. At the same time I started the squash, I crumbled the last of the ground up abalone into an iron skillet with a little bit of butter at a medium to high heat. A little flour was necessary to keep it from sticking to me and balling up. (A quarter of a pound of abalone tenderized any way and pounded or diced into small pieces would do). As it cooked, I turned it often and tried to cut the larger pieces into smaller bits. This was cooked it until the pieces were brown around the edges with a layer of brown stuck to the frying pan. Then I poured some water in the skillet to loosen the abalone and scraped it and every bit of brown stuff into the vegetable pan. I stirred it together to coat the vegetables with the resulting rich brown sauce. I let it cook with the lid open for a few minutes to remove some water and thicken the sauce a little.
This produced enough food for two people, four if you had other entrees to go with it. But I sat down and ate every drop right then. The sauce had the richest abalone taste of any dish we have tried so far. The little bits of abalone added texture to the vegetables, which I may have overcooked a little bit. It was wonderful. Vegetables in Abalone Sauce.