Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sorry, this sea cumcumber recipe is relegated to the history book...

My wife and I were equally surprised when we saw a sea cucumber on sale sign at the local Chinese fishmonger’s shop window, while we were shopping for the Chinese New Year’s celebration. We entered the shop for a closer look and found a hand written price tag of $19.99 a kilo floating among the rehydrated and slimy looking slugs. I thought it was a bit pricy but many other shoppers thought otherwise and the price definitely did not deter a mob of eager customers trying to buy them. I had mixed feelings about preparing this traditional dish for my family to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. My main concern was not the displayed price of the sea cucumber but rather the fact that it was derived from the overexploitation of sea cucumber stocks in many parts of the world. I can still remember how plentiful and easily available sea cucumber was when I was in Papua New Guinea. Fishing for sea cucumber in Papua New Guinea was mainly carried out by free diving from canoes or dugouts crewed by 2-3 fishermen or by hand collection along reefs at low tide. Once collected, the animal was gutted.They are dried for preservation purposes and had to be rehydrated by boiling and soaking in water for several days. They are mainly used as an ingredient in Chinese cuisine soups or stews and renowned for its slippery, glutinous texture.
Should I continue to serve this traditional dish or send it to the sin bin, together with the infamous shark fin and be relegated to the history books?
I wonder how long before the sea cucumbers come under the same attack from conservation groups as there are growing international efforts to ban the shark fin soup; a traditional but increasingly controversial Chinese dish from the table for good. It is reported in the papers that Hong Kong-based Peninsula and Shangri-La hotel groups have taken shark fin soup off their menus. In Singapore this month, its largest supermarket chain, NTUC FairPrice, will cease sales of shark fin products in March. Cold Storage, another chain with several outlets in Singapore, banned it from its stores there last year.
Did I buy the sea cucumber? Yes I did, but for the last time as I have relegated this recipe to the history book.

Steamed Sea Cucumber with Meatballs Recipe


1 large sea cucumber
3 slices ginger
1 stalk spring onion
200 g oyster mushroom sliced
1 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
2 cup water
Minced Pork 350g
1 tsp. Sesame oil
1 Tbsp soya sauce
1 egg
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp dried sole fish, toasted over low heat until fragrant and grind to powder. If unavailable, use bonito stock powder.
1 tsp Salt
¼ tsp Pepper

Heat wok and add 1 tbsp oil, stir fry ginger and spring onion until fragrant. Add water and wine and put in sea cucumber and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Drain sea cucumber and set aside to cool. In the meantime, mix minced pork with grounded sole fish or bonito stock powder, cornstarch, egg, sesame oil, salt and pepper to form a paste. Stuff the meat paste inside the sea cucumber and secure the filling with a piece of string. Make remaining meat paste into meat balls. Place the sea cucumber, meat balls and sliced oyster mushroom with a cup of water and soya sauce and sesame oil in a plate and steamed for 20 minute and until the meat balls are cooked. Carefully remove the steamed and meatballs onto a deep serving plate. Pour the liquid from the steamed sea cucumber into a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 tbsp cornflour to thicken over a low heat to make a sauce. Pour sauce over the steamed sea cucumber and meatballs and serve.


  1. Buy Australian sea-cucumber. All product is proven by Australian government to be ecologically sustainable, with strict quotas and size limits. Further, the reef is divided into hundreds of zones and catchers may only work these zones for a short number of days - which are then closed for fishing again for three years.Shark fin from Australia is similar situation. Sharks are caught sustainably here for Flake (fish and chips). 10 barrels = around $ 690.00 return for fisherman, and the fins = around $ 18.00 (So obviously not for finning).

    1. Wow, but where can we buy Australian sea products?