The Clever Root

Fall / Winter 2015

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 11 of 111

1 2 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t "ABALONE IS AN ICONIC SEAFOOD for the West Coast, especially Califor- nia," explains Brad Buckley, General Manager for The Abalone Farm in Cayu- cos, California. However, its high price point presents challenges for chefs and restaurateurs constantly balancing on a knife edge of profit versus loss. Many Californians can remember eating fresh-caught abalone with shells the size of salad plates, just as native cultures did for centuries. However, wild abalone is no longer a viable option for chefs due to the effects of years of over-harvesting, coupled with the chronic wasting disease that has decimated populations along the Pacific Coast. Nowadays, to source this delicate, high-end seafood with any kind of consistency, restaurants rely on farming operations. Abalone farming is not for the impatient. It takes four to five years for the marine mollusks to reach market size, which is only about as big as a beer coaster. During that period, the abalone must be transferred several differ- ent times as they grow larger. Then, unless it's being sold live, the product must be removed from the shell, tenderized for market, and packaged for transport. Suffice to say it is an extremely labor intensive process. Hence the hefty price tag, and the monetary quandary for chefs and restaurants. "We're seeing a lot of imported abalone that is much cheaper than our domestic product, and some chefs, quite understandably, are responding to that," explains Buckley. "But then you really don't have any kind of assur- ance about the farming practices or the ultimate quality." Chefs touting sustainable menus might raise a toque-topped eyebrow at any mention of farmed seafood, but some abalone can indeed be served with a clear conscience. In fact, locally farmed abalone enjoys a "Best Choice" ranking from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch pro- gram, if raised "in land- or sea-based enclosures," according to the Seafood Watch website. "Sea-ranched" products, such as those from China and Japan, are on the "Avoid" list due to their environmental impact. The Abalone Farm's California Red Abalone (the only species farmed in California) is very firmly in the "Best Choice" category, one of the reasons it is a mainstay on the menu at Artisan in Paso Robles. Since opening in 2006, the restaurant has established a high bar for walking the walk when it comes to serving sustainable, local, and organic fare. "Abalone is a buzz item for us because you just don't see it a lot," says Artisan's chef/co- owner Chris Kobayashi, who has been twice nominated for Best Chef: West by the James Beard Foundation. However, he admitted that "price point is an issue—we definitely want to get value on the plate." Currently, Artisan is achieving this with a small plate tostada made with chunks of aba- lone. Because of that application, "we're able to use product that's a little less expensive that you couldn't use in something like an abalone steak," explains Kobayashi. For the tostada, the abalone pieces get a but- termilk wash and are dipped in lightly seasoned rice flour before being deep-fried to a golden brown. Then, they're placed atop a crispy street taco-sized tortilla along with grilled corn, chopped cherry tomatoes, and slices of avocado (all locally raised). In addition to being visually appealing, it's a beautifully balanced dish. The crunchy tostada matches up to the rich texture of the avocado, and the fresh flavors of the corn and tomato complement the delicate abalone without overwhelming it. "When the corn goes out of season, we'll do HOME GROWN 1 2 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t ABALONE IS THE SIGNATURE AQUACULTURE ON CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST by Katy Budge / photos Brittany App

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Clever Root - Fall / Winter 2015