A is for Abalone
If you’ve ever seen an abalone shell, you know it is absolutely gorgeous. Often called opal of the sea, with iridescent shades of blue, purple and green, the shells are reminiscent of mother of pearl and are treasured both spiritually and aesthetically in many cultures. In New Zealand, they’re known as paua and are used in traditional Maori woodcarvings, while across the globe you’ll see these colorful encasings decorating jewelry and musical instruments.
As breathtaking as these shells are, though, I find what’s inside them to be the real pearls. Abalone meat has long been considered a rare delicacy in numerous regions of the world, but luckily for you and me, the rise of farm-raised abalone has made this mollusk much more accessible — and therefore nommable — for today’s foodies. We even can get amazing abalone right here at home from sources like Big Island Abalone Corporation, where it is raised 100 percent sustainably.
Well, that’s enough chatter for now. Let’s get right down to it and start munching on some sensational abalone from these Ono, You Know faves.
Happy Days Chinese Seafood Restaurant
As Happy Days Chinese Restaurant owner Lisa Lum will tell you, abalone is considered a luxury item in Chinese culture and usually is reserved for special occasions. For any and every one of those memorable moments, she is ready to serve up Abalone and Choy Sum with Black Mushrooms ($25).
Lum says the dish is especially popular with patrons who are celebrating weddings or birthdays. The sharable platter presents the grandness to match these occasions, as plump slices of large and tender abalone are served in abundance. Adding bounty to the selection are nourishing vegetables, including a bed of bright-green choy sum and large, round black mushrooms that polka dot the dish. To top it all off, this elegant entr e is presented in a rich oyster sauce for added flavor.
Though it is often ordered for special events, Abalone and Choy Sum with Black Mushrooms is available on the extensive a la carte menu on a daily basis, because after all, any day filled with savory abalone is a noteworthy one. Why not enjoy it alongside the restaurant’s dim sum service? It’s offered daily from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Happy Days Chinese Seafood Restaurant
3553 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki
This next abalone creation is simultaneously modern, upscale and packed with full flavors. It comes to patrons as part of Azure Restaurant’s Royal Papa’aina experience ($175 per person), an exclusive chef’s degustation menu complete with wine pairings, beachside cabana seating and a personal waiter for guests.
“It’s your own private dining experience,” says chef de cuisine Shaymus Alwin. “You’re coming in to exp erience the chef’s favorites, and it’s got all the goodies — caviar, lobster, foie gras, abalone and more.”
Drawing on years of inspiration, Alwin personally crafted the eight-course menu himself, and third on the list is Olive Oil Confit of Big Island Abalone and Shinsato Farm’s Pork Tonkatsu.
Striving to underline local products and reinvent the idea of surf and turf, the chef succeeds with a masterful dish that showcases precision of craft in every bite. In this selection, Alwin uses the confit technique to cook fresh abalone — sourced from Kona Cold Lobsters on Big Island — in an aromatic olive oil to soften the sometimes chewy seafood. It is then topped with toasted bread crumbs and perfected with an all-natural brownbutter yuzu foam, which acts as a powerful sauce with its citrusy notes and savory shiro dashi.
This divine abalone is accompanied by island pork, which Alwin transforms into a head-cheese roulade made crispy with panko, thyme and rice crackers. When it’s all combined, “there’s reference to a lot of local flavors there,” describes the chef.
Those interested in experiencing the Royal Papa‘aina meal — and I trust that you are — should call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve the menu.
The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort
2259 Kalakaua Ave.