Credit: Earl Carter

Abalone steamed in kelp with black pepper sauce

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

Over the years, I have witnessed some heinous treatment of abalone to try to make it tender. From rocks to meat mincers, it all seems fairly mediaeval. Personally, I find a little bit of “bite” – a more flattering description of tough – pleasing. Chewing releases seasoning as the structure of the food changes. But how to describe the act of mastication without it sounding grotesque. Even the word seems unpleasant.

On Flinders Island there are a group of locals who gather for the annual “ab off” – a competition to cook the best abalone. This gets very competitive and has recently involved bringing in impartial judges. There are ravioli, polished shells, modern garnish and plate-ups. This year’s winner was all about technique and theatre and incorporated a car diff as the cooking medium. By all reports it delivered a very impressive result.

The technique I write of here was born of necessity. The best result I have had from cooking abalone was a one-hour steam, but I was on a beach with no pot. Here I wanted to replicate an earth oven using hot rocks and kelp. The result, although more laborious than was necessary, was excellent. One hour of steam and indirect heat on the kelp gave way to a very tasty abalone with just the right amount of “bite”. This is an easy way to produce a similar result in a domestic kitchen.


Serves 2 as a meal

  • 1 blacklip abalone
  • 1 sheet bull kelp or kombu
  • 250ml water
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 50g dried oysters or scallops
  • 20g young ginger
  • 30ml light soy sauce
  • 4g black peppercorns
  • 2 egg whites
  • 15g arrowroot
  1. Keep the abalone whole in the shell and wrap loosely in young kelp or kombu.
  2. Choose a pot with a tight-fitting lid and place over a high heat. Once the pot is hot, put in the abalone with the shell-side facing upwards, add 150 millilitres of the water and put the lid on. Cook on high heat for three minutes before adding the rest of the water and reducing the temperature. Keep this at a very gentle simmer of about 90 degrees for one hour while monitoring the water level, which will vary depending on how well the lid fits.
  3. After an hour set the pot aside to come to room temperature before taking out the abalone and removing the innards, which should pull off easily. Clean the remaining muscle with a damp cloth and slice as finely as you can. Give the shell a scrub, then place the sliced abalone back into the shell to serve.
  4. Put the chicken stock together with the dried oysters and ginger into a sauce pot. Simmer gently to reduce by 30 per cent, then strain off the liquid.
  5. Return the liquid to the sauce pot and season with soy sauce (ensure you taste while seasoning as the intensity will vary according to the soy you use).
  6. Grind the pepper using a mortar and pestle and reserve.
  7. Whisk the egg white and the arrowroot using a fork, then bring the sauce up to the boil. Drizzle the egg white mixture in, then gently agitate with the fork while it comes back up to the boil. Just prior to the sauce boiling, add the pepper and remove it from the heat.
  8. Spoon the sauce over the sliced abalone and serve with steamed rice and your favourite greens.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 6, 2019 as "Love me less tender".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription