Saturday, November 05, 2005

Sea cucumbers: tasting a slug of Australia's history

It is hard to fathom a sea floor dwelling slug rating as a delicacy but the sea cucumber is so highly prized it can retail for $150/kg.

It also has the honour of being Australia’s oldest documented export item.

I had the pleasure of seeing and tasting this slimy delicacy at a cooking demonstration at the South East Asian Seafare Festival at the National Maritime Museum earlier today.

According to SBS-TVs Joanna Savill, who hosted the demonstration, the Macassan people sailed from Indonesia to Australia to fish for sea cucumbers as early as the 1700s. They employed the assistance of Aboriginal people, paying them with food, tools and canoes. Joanna has recorded a segment about this interesting piece of Australian history for the next season of The Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia.

She said the sea cucumber is still fished for by the Macassan people and a local company has just entered the market selling freshly frozen slugs rather than the pricey dried variety known as trepang.

At the cooking demonstration, Alice Lee and Tom Leung from Sky Phoenix Chinese Restaurant, used a trepang to make enoki, dried scallop and sea cucumber soup.

Alice Lee, co-owner of the restaurant, said sea cucumber is such a prized ingredient it is only eaten on special occasions like New Year and in wedding banquets, and is similar in prestige to shark fin soup. She also referred to it as ``beauty food'' for its skin enhancing properties.

``It is so precious because it is rich in protein and has zero cholesterol,’’ Alice said.

``Plus it is difficult to get and the process takes a couple of days.’’

Preparing a dried sea cucumber involves soaking it overnight, and then boiling it in cold water and leaving it in the pot until the water is cold. This boiling/chilling process is repeated four or five times until the cucumber is soft.

Chef, Tom Leung, had already prepared the trepang prior to the demonstration, and I was lucky enough to try the soup he made.

The soup itself was a tasty and warming broth but the sea cucumber tasted more like the enoki mushrooms it was cooked with than a piece of seafood. It had a firm, jelly-like texture and was pale in colour.

While I doubt I'll be rushing to track down a sea cucumber for my next dinner party, I left the demonstration feeling healthy on the inside and out and felt honoured to have tried this delicacy and little known piece of Australian history.


At 12:24 pm, Blogger JB said...

Heck, I'd probably try it out once, just to see what it tasted like.

By the way, you should turn on that thingy so you don't get spam posts like the one above me.

At 2:59 pm, Blogger Pretz said...

I've had sea cucumber in chinese soup - the soup was fab and it did feel like jelly, but I got a bit quesy when I realised I was really just eating a big old sea worm. Great photo of the soup!

At 10:05 pm, Blogger jerm said...

at home we have sea cucumber braised with dried scallops, chokos and pork

At 7:54 pm, Blogger Peter Konnecke said...

Great story and photo. Have cross poted to my blog and blogrolled a link to your site.

At 10:05 am, Blogger teacher said...

I teach Year 3 and we just did the Discovery of Australia, including the trepang hunters from Sulawesi. This week we are attempting cooking stir fry of trepang. Wish us luck!! Will they be game enough to eat it? Will I? Yes, to set a good example!


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