Abalone and kai lan, a classic Cantonese banquet dish.
Cantonese cooking is loved for the freshness of the ingredients and the light and uncomplicated way the ingredients are cooked to bring out their best flavors and texture. There's hardly any braising or heavy use of soy sauce or condiments because the best and freshest ingredients are used. Most dishes are given a quick stir fry with the addition of salt and superior stock that has been brewed for hours in the restaurant, if it's a respectable restaurant that doesn't rely on msg. Abalone kai lan is one of those classic Cantonese dishes. Although abalone kailan is a simple dish to cook, it is not an easy dish to cook well because the flavor is subtle as minimal ingredients are used so that the flavor of the abalone is not masked.
When I was a kid, abalone and kai lan was a regular dish at wedding banquets and CNY dinners but now I've never been to a wedding banquet where abalone is served. That isn't surprising considering that a can of abalone is about RM250/US$70. 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.
There are many brands of abalone out there, among them Skylight and New Moon. You may pay more for the established brands but there's a less likelihood of getting cut up little abalones or more liquid than abalone in the can. Shop around too, the prices can vary.
The best way to serve canned abalone is plain, in its own liquid and on a bed of veggies, usually kai lan. Never waste it in soups; for soups, use fresh abalone. Some of you might prefer a stronger flavor and add oyster sauce to the dish but I think that when you eat something this expensive, you should taste the authentic, original flavor.
Yan, as you've requested, this one's for you.
p.s. and it's "a-ba-lo-ne" not "a-ba-lone", "mas-car-po-ne" not "mas-car-pone". Thank you.
Abalone and kai lan, paler because I forgot to add the light soy sauce.
Abalone & Kai Lan
1 can abalone
2 bunches short stemmed kai lan*
2 heaped T cornflour + 1/3 cup superior chicken stock
salt & pepper & pinch of fine sugar
1/2 t light soy sauce for color and flavor, if like
optional: 2 T premium oyster sauce & sesame oil, or 2 T evaporated milk
*a Chinese veg related to the broccoli. If not available, use broccolini (result of a cross between broccoli and kai lan) or Chinese choy sum.
1. Keep the liquid from the can for the sauce. Slice the abalone thinly, about 1/4 cm. Too thick and it will need strong chewing, too thin and you can't taste the abalone. Make sure to keep the slices in order, like the abalone is still whole, so that they will look neat on the plate later. The best way is to keep the sliced abalone in a bowl just big enough to hold it in shape. Usually I'd keep the abalone warm in the bowl in my rice pot (in which the rice is cooked and kept warm), just to heat the abalone through. You can steam it over low boiling water too, just to keep warm. However, if you don't mind the slices all mixed up, then don't keep them warm in the rice pot or steamer.
Trim the hard stems, if any, off the kai lan.
2. Boil a large pot of water, add 1 tsp salt and 2 T veg oil and blanche the veg in 2 or 3 batches quickly. You can plunge the cooked veg in cold water to stop the cooking. I don't because I undercook them and they are still green and crunchy. Drain well (important so that the water will not dilute the sauce later) and arrange on a serving plate. You can drizzle some premium oyster sauce over the veg now for more taste if like but I don't.
Arrange the abalone slices over the veg, making sure they fan out so that each piece will get some sauce. If you prefer to cook the abalone than steam or keep them warm in step 1, you can add the abalone in the next step when cooking the sauce. This way the abalone will not look as pretty but will taste better because there's more sauce coating.
3. There are 3 sauces you can choose to make: a) plain abalone sauce. Mix the cornflour and chicken stock and add it to the abalone liquid, stirring well over medium heat until thickened. You can add 1/2 t light soy sauce for color and taste b) milky abalone sauce. Same as a) but add 2 tablespoons of evaporated milk but no light soy sauce c) same as a) but add oyster sauce and sesame oil.
Season sauce with salt, sugar and pepper and pour over the abalone and veggies. Serve immediately.