Australia has some of the most pristine coastal waters, which is home to many highly prized seafood. One of our most coveted exports is the Australian Abalone, which can be mainly found in the cool waters of Australia’s Southern coastline.
About 50% of the total global supply of wild caught abalone is from Australian waters, and approximately half of that is from Tasmania. There is a tightly monitored and controlled quota in place on Australian wild abalone to ensure its ecological sustainability.
What are abalones?
Abalones live in rocky coastal saltwater. Unlike most other popular molluscs, such as scallops, oysters and mussels which have two shells hinged together and abalone have just one shell.
Abalones have developed a large muscular foot with which they firmly attach themselves to their rocky homes. Thus, they are classified as a gastropod, which is why they are also sometimes called “escargots of the sea” by some. The firm muscle is highly valued, especially by Asian restaurants across the world, making Abalone one of Australia’s most highly coveted seafood species. Currently, this delicacy is priced around $100/kg.
Here’s a fun fact about abalone shells: No two shells are the same.
Abalones are also a Maori delicacy. After eating the meat, the Maori use the shell to make jewellery. They believe it can bring luck, peace, and prosperity to the person wearing it.
What does abalone taste like?
Abalone is low in oil with a subtle sweet flavour. Unlike other molluscs, it has a firm but tender texture when cooked properly. When properly tenderized, abalone has a taste often likened to a cross between scallops and foie gras.
Abalone has a crisp chewiness with the distinct saltiness of the ocean, though it is also rich and sweet with a buttery finish.
Prized and coveted Australian abalone
There are 18 species of Abalone in Australian waters. Of the lot, 12 are unique to Australia. However, we are most famous for the 2 main commercial varieties of abalone, the Blacklip and Greenlip abalone. As their name suggests, the colour of the dark lip around the edge of their foot helps differentiate them.
Greenlip Abalone has a slightly stronger flavour than Blacklip Abalone.
- Blacklip Abalone is the most common species in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. They can be found from Ceduna (South Australia) to Ballina (NSW). Tasmania has the largest wild harvest Abalone fishery in Australia, while Victoria also hosts some smaller farms. Blacklip Abalone are typically sized around 250g-350g when fully grown, with shells measuring up to 17cm.
- Greenlip Abalone is found along Australia’s southern coast, off Victoria, South Australia, northern Tasmania and Western Australia. The most common aquaculture species, it’s farmed mainly in South Australia, (although Victoria and Tasmania have some farms) and is often harvested at 3 years of age, when the shell is 7-11cm, and sold as ‘cocktail’ Abalone. When fully grown it’s a similar size to Blacklip.
Other types of Abalones harvested in Australian waters include:
- Tiger Abalone a hybrid of Greenlip and Blacklip Abalones. Named for its sometimes-striped frill, Tiger Abalone is a common aquaculture species.
- Brownlip Abalone harvested off southern Western Australia, is closely related to Blacklip Abalone.
- The small Roe’s Abalone, also known as Redlip Abalone, only grows up to is 36g and 9cm. They are harvested off southern Western Australia but also found off South Australia. Staircase Abalone and Whirling Abalones are similar variety of the shellfish found on intertidal reefs off South Australia and southern Western Australia. They aren’t harvested commercially due to their size.
- Other temperate water species unique to Australia include: Brazier’s, Reddish-rayed, Elegant and Semiplicate Abalones.
- Tropical Indo-Pacific species that can be found in Australian waters include Donkey-ear Abalone, which is the fastest growing Abalone. These are mainly commercially farmed in SouthEast Asia. Other warm water loving abalones include the Oval Abalone and Scaly Australian Abalones.
Abalone is available in the shell (live or frozen), as meat (canned, frozen and vacuum-packed or dried). As a rule of thumb, farmed ‘cocktail’ Abalone is generally less expensive than Abalone harvested from the wild.
Abalone is available in the shell (live or frozen), as meat (canned, frozen and vacuum-packed or dried).
As a rule of thumb, farmed ‘cocktail’ Abalone is generally less expensive than Abalone harvested from the wild.
How to store abalone
Abalone can be kept live for up to 3 days if they are stored in a deep-sided bucket covered with a hessian sack soaked in water in the coolest part of the house.
How long can abalone keep in the fridge?
According to seafood markets, shucked abalone can be refrigerated for 2-3 days or frozen for up to 3 months in temperatures below -18ºC.
How to clean and prepare abalone
Using a short-bladed knife to slide around the edge between the flesh and the shell, remove meat and cut off intestine (the small sack attached to the underside). Rinse and dry the abalone with clean paper towel.
Cut off the small piece of gristle at the head, trim off the frill and lip, turn over and cut a thin layer off the surface of the foot where it attached to the rock. Then, trim all surfaces of any dark material.
Under cold running water, using a small paring knife, scrape off the brown film with a brush on the sides.
Slice horizontally and tenderize by placing between two freezer bags and beating lightly with a meat mallet. The frill and lip don’t need to be trimmed off abalone, but the dark film still needs to be scraped off the foot and the sides to prevent it becoming tough. However, tenderising is optional. Abalones can be cooked whole or sliced as thinly as possible.
Abalones are best cooked very quickly over a high heat (for just a few seconds) or very slowly over a low heat (for up to 6 hours, depending on size).
On its own abalone meat is salty, sweet and buttery. However, it absorbs flavours well and can be braised, steamed, poached, pan-fried, stir-fried, barbecued or eaten raw (sashimi). The meat can be cooked (especially steamed) in the cleaned shells, which retains its natural juices.
The shells make good serving vessels too! The firm texture of the abalone means it can be substituted for squid, octopus or cuttlefish in some recipes.
Asian Pantry's abalone range
If you are keen to give cooking abalone a go, head over to our website to check out the range of canned abalone and abalone products available. If you do try some of these, please leave us a product review or tag us on Facebook and Instagram!, we’d love to hear your feedback!