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December 11, 2013

Johnny Dives On In

Steamed Abalone Dumplings with Cilantro
I'd venture to say that abalone doesn't make the menu in very many households, but I'd bet bits of its shell are in a few jewelry boxes. While the mother of pearl interior of the shell is popular with fashionistas, the abalone meat is considered a delicacy. Mr. B and I get to eat it every now and again because of JB, better known as Cuz--Mr. B's California cousin who has just about as much New Orleans funk on him as Mr. B does.

Within reason, of course.

Cuz has been working hard to earn his Cajun coolness. He's been our crawfish driver, picking up bags of the delectable mud bugs at the Sacramento airport, icing them down, and driving all the way to our waiting crawfish pot on the Central Coast. On a recent trip back home,  he took the back roads into New Orleans along the 'Boudin Trail' and without asking, he knew that he'd be expected to return with a cooler full of sausages and other goodies.

I guess you could say that over the years, he's graciously accepted the Cajun Feats of Strength and is progressing quite nicely. So much in fact, that when it came time to decide what we were going to do with the latest abalone, Mr. B put Cuz to work in the kitchen. When Mr. B plays sous chef to my starring role he's tame as a kitten, but when Mr. B's at the helm, he puts his help through the paces. Of course, providing cocktails and a string of one liners does soften the blow.

Fairly quickly, Mr. B came up with the idea to make abalone dumplings, which was no surprise. If Mr. B ever went missing, the first place I'd go looking is any one of his favorite dumpling restaurants in San Francisco's Chinatown.

The idea was to create abalone dumplings as simple and flavorful as our favorite shrimp and cilantro dumplings--very few ingredients, but deftly combining them in the right ratio. But, this is Mr. B's recipe, so it needed a twist. What better way to say Cajun than with an ample dose of pork fat? And while, I was worried about the fat overwhelming the delicate flavor of the abalone, once again, Mr. B proved to be a real Palate Master.

Once the recipe was figured out, Mr. B put Cuz to work on just the sort of grunt task that can make cooking a drag--picking and chopping cilantro. But, that Mr. B is picky when it comes to cilantro and he made Cuz pick each leaf from the stem and to add a little fire to the mix, Mr. B started barking orders--"Johnny...Johnny...Come on, Johnny--pick it up over there!" Soon, "Johnny" was jumping and fetching and picking the cilantro like a pro.

It was with great anticipation that we sat down at the table--we couldn't wait to taste how well the mix of abalone, pork fat, garlic, cilantro, and water chestnuts would come together. The first bite was heavenly--flavorful, rich, and evenly balanced. While I'd recommend searching out farmed abalone for this recipe, you could easily substitute shrimp.

But, it's up to you to find someone to pick your cilantro--we've already given Johnny an empty cooler and sent him off on the next challenge.

Mr. B's Abalone and Cilantro Dumplings
1 large abalone, cleaned and coarsely ground (use a grinder or food processor)
2-3 tablespoons of ground pork fat
3 tablespoons finely minced green onion tops
1 handful of cleaned, stemmed cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1/2 a can of water chestnuts, finely minced
1 egg white
1-2 tablespoons of Panko--just enough for texture and body
1 pack of egg roll wrappers, quartered

1. Mix together all ingredients except the egg roll wrappers; refrigerate for several hours.
2. To prepare dumplings, put a teaspoon of filling into the center of each piece of the wrapper and fashion into an open purse; set aside on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper and continue making dumplings until you have used all of the filling.
3. Place sheet pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.
4. To cook, line steamer baskets with waxed paper and lightly spray with cooking oil. Arrange dumplings, careful not to pack them tightly.
5. Set baskets over steaming water and cook until hot and cooked through.
6. Serve with a sauce of 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of minced green onion tops.

Store any uncooked dumplings in freezer bags in the freezer until ready to use.



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