Christophe Launay's Sea Cucumber Photo Essay

12-Nov-2009
Sea cucumbers are marine animals of the class Holothuroidea that are used in fresh or dried form in various cuisines.
Known as Trepang in Malay or ‘bêche-de-mer’ in French or the not so appetizing name ‘sea rat ‘or ‘sea slug’, the sea cucumber prized for its gelatinous texture has been a delicacy in Chinese cuisine since ancient times, often served in Chinese banquets, among other revered dishes such as the shark's fin soup. It's not a vegetable, but a marine animal that is soft and cylindrical, resembles a cucumber and hence the name.
In Chinese, the sea cucumber is called ‘Hai Sen’ or ‘sea ginseng’ is a ‘yang’ or ‘hearty’ food, reputed to be a general tonic and aphrodisiac. Rich in iron and contains minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc, the sea cucumber has been known to help ease arthritis pain and relief joints discomfort.
Often sold in dried hard form, preparing dried sea cucumber can be time consuming and requires a lot of work. After removing the skin, you have to reconstitute it in water which is drained daily for 4 days, occasionally wash it under running water, boil it with slices or ginger or pineapple skin in between to remove the ‘fishy’ odour, so that it expands to several times its original size and becomes soft again. Drain and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use. Not prepared properly, it can have a rubbery-tough-to-chew texture that can be unappealing and taste wrong. As for fresh sea cucumber, expanded and sold soaked in water, which can sometimes be found in Chinese markets, needs only a rinse and boil the same way described above. The best kind of fresh sea cucumber is black in colour, with smooth surface and fine gloss.
The sea cucumber can be cooked in many ways - stewed with ribs, stir fried in black pepper sauce, or boiled in chicken stocks. The rather bland tasting sea cucumber has the ability to absorb and accentuate the flavours of the ingredients in which it is cooked with and is best cooked in rich broth. The feeling of succulent jelly-like texture of sea cucumber infused with the flavourful stock in your mouth is a must for food gourmet.
Did you know that the sea cucumber, when cut into two is able to reattach itself?
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Christophe Launay