Monday, February 1, 2010


Dr. Albert Lee is back with pulutan, having gotten a craving for it after reading Drink of Angels.
The doctor is in!
Becher-de-mer, the fancy French name for sea slugs or sea cucumbers, are marine animals used in oriental cuisines. it's called namako in japan, and balatan in the Philippines. In china, it is also called sea ginseng because of its "medicinal values." It is considered to be an aphrodisiac by some believers (I ain't one of them). It's a "yang" food (as in yin and yang). Sea slug dishes are usually served along with the other high-end Chinese food in banquets such as shark fin's soup, bird's nest soup, abalone, Peking duck etc.

When I was growing up in the town of Sorsogon (now a city) in Sorsogon province, Bicol region, Philippines, my cousins and I would go down the ocean floor during low tides looking for live sea shells, crabs, and sea cucumber. These items were in abundance then. I heard that nowadays this is no longer the case because of pollution. Peoples have destroyed the very habitat for a food source that have sustained them for generations. Many other places are suffering from the same fate. The Philippine coral reefs, so important in marine ecology, is partially damaged and will take decades for it to recover.
Sorsogon city has a pier called rompeolas where ships from Manila and other places docks and unload their cargo. On their return trips, they carry hemp and copra for export to America and other countries. The pier was also our favorite fishing spot where we used to catch rock lapu-lapu (grouper). We would spend hours fishing and dreaming about taking long voyages to far away lands. I wonder if the descendants of those fish are still living in those craggy rocks around the pier.

One does not need to wander very far outside Manila to see the ravages of human pollution. Look at the Pasig river that divides Metro Manila into two. The river used to be an important transport route during the Spanish occupation but is now so polluted it is considered dead by the ecologist. Ironically, the river is right in the backyard of Malacanang Palace, the seat of power, where, with political will something could have been done to remedy the problems during previous administrations. Rhetoric about rehabilitation was aplenty in the past but nothing was ever carried into actions. It is only recently, with public outcry, that rehabilitation is being taken up.
Sea cucumbers are usually harvested, dried and traded in places like China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea,and Japan. In Palawan, Philippines, sea cucumbers are being cultured and sold to the different countries mentioned above.
For home consumption, sea cucumber can be purchased dried or the re-hydrated type ready for use. Let's stick to the re-hydrated type for our home cooking because the dried ones will take days to prepare and I don't want to discourage anyone from trying to prepare this dish because of time constraint.

There are only a few basic items you will need to prepare this dish. Be adventurous and do it at least once just for the fun of it. If you have never eaten sea cucumber before, you may want to try it in a restaurant to see whether you like it or not before attempting to prepare it yourself. Gelatinous food likes cooked pork or beef tendon is also an acquired taste. I know of many friends of mine who don't care much about eating such stuff.

This recipe calls for the following:

1 kilo of re-hydrated cucumber

1 can of abalone, set aside the juice. Slice the abalone into thin slices

6 pieces of dried black Chinese mushroom, pre-soaked, ready for use

scallions, minced

1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1/2 cup of cooking wine

salt to taste

garlic, minced

Slow cook the sea cucumber in 4 cups of chicken stock for 1 hour or until it is tender, adding more stock if needed. Bring to a boil, then add the mushrooms, soy, cooking wine, salt, garlic and the juice from the canned abalone. When the sea cucumber is tender enough, you will notice that the juice will become gelatinous. For a thicker juice, add a teaspoon of tapioca flour dissolved in water. Put the dish in a platter lined with leafy lettuce (for good presentation only), place the sliced abalone on top and garnish with the scallions. You may also want to arrange the mushrooms around the platter for good appearance or some pre-boiled baby bok choy as the sapin. Serve with white rice. Sea cucumber is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. Some people claimed it is good for people suffering from arthritis.
Kain tayo!


Anonymous said...

I did not even know they were edible. Thank you.

juliuscesar103 said...

live or dried sea slugs looks disgusting to most people. even when it is already prepared, with all the trimmings, some peoploe still won't touch it. i remembered when i was touring china with 10 american teachers/professors as guests of the chinese government when we were served sea slugs. i ended up eating a whole plate of it because every one else just took a bite out of courtesy. i've never eaten that much sea slugs in one setting in my entire life.

juliuscesar103 said...

This dish is in demand today in Houston, Chinatown, for the Chinese new year celebration. Chinatown is packed with people from all walks of life to dine, watch the dragon dance, lion dance and various other entertainments.

Jane Kaylor said...

Thanks for the recipe!!! Love it. Fresh or frozen local abalone is cheaper but will never give the same taste, flavor and texture as canned abalone. I love the flavor and taste of canned abalone and one day I want to eat abalone like 'abalone kings' do: braised in sauce and served whole, like a steak, washed down with a good white wine. Cut with a knife and fork of course. Meantime, it's still cheaper to slice abalone thinly and share with the family. I love this dish. It's such a special treat