Monday, 25 July 2011

Processing Dried Sea Cucumber for Cooking

There have been many published methods on how to process a dried sea cucumber to make them ready for cooking.  The method I describe here has been used by my mom for many a years. It is generic for all types of sea cucumber and hopefully easy for you to follow.  You should expect a total increase of up to 3 times the initial dried weight after processing.  So please prepare sufficiently big pots for the process.  Remember that if you start off with good quality, it is easier to end with good quality.  

  1. Prepare one pot (Use a old/cheap pot for boiling) for boiling and 2 pots for cleaning (cheap aluminium/ stainless steel "555" types)
  2. Soak the sea cucumbers for a up to 3 hours in a container filled with clean oil free water.  Prefer to use filtered water.
  3. Heat filtered water in the cooking pot ( in medium fire) to a boil.  Place the sea cucumber in the cooking pot.  Boil for approximately 15-40 minutes.  The time depends on the size of the sea cucumber.  The smaller they are, the shorter the time.  
  4. Turn off the fire and let is soak over night.  You will see that the sea cucumber has already increased in size.  The outer skin may fall off and white "powder" dissolved into the water.
  5. Fill up the remaining 2 containers with filtered water.  Ensure there are no oil traces to contaminate the sea cucumber. 
  6. Transfer the sea cucumbers to the second pot.  Clean off the skin of the sea cucumber with a clean  brush.  Do not over-scrub. If it does not come off, do not force it, but be prepared to reboil.  Remove off the white "powder" that some species have .  If the the bottom is the sea cucumber is not open, slit it with a scissor.  Clean off the sand, inner lining of the cavity, and the intestines.
  7. Rinse off with some clean water and transfer to the third pot.  Let it soak over night, preferably in the fridge.
  8. Check the texture of the sea cucumber after the soaking.  If it is too tough, repeat step 3 to step 7. Play safe by shortening the time. Note : The tougher the flesh, the more likely the sea cucumber will require 2 to more cycles of boiling.
  9. Soak in filtered water and change the water every day.  Remove parts that seem "rotten".  The tough outer skin should be fully removed after the 3rd day.
  10. Within 5-7 days, you should see your valued sea cucumbers in full .
  11. Happy Dining!!
For Storage After Processing
  1. Drain the Sea Cucumber and place in a clean container or plastic bag.  Place in the freezer section.  
  2. Can store for a year.
  3. To cook, take it out and defrost in a clean container of filtered water.

  • I prefer the use of filtered water as the sea cucumber is absorbing the water (Rehydrating).  Whatever is in the water goes into the final product.  Tap water in Singapore should be fine.....
  • Sea cucumbers are sea creatures....sometimes quality differ.  
  • If you see reddish marks on the dried sea cucumber, it is a sign of rot.  Process it immediately for cooking, or boil it and then dry in the sun for further storage (not recommended unless you know what you are doing)
  • Pineapple skins does not have an impact to final product quality. :)

Thursday, 21 July 2011

How to Select and Purchase Sea Cucumber?

How to select dried sea cucumber?
The quality of a Dried Sea Cucumber can very from batch to batch and even within the same batch of goods.  Sea Cucumber are harvested from the sea, either close to shore or by trawling boats further out to sea.
The sea cucumber is then processed and dried to endure the transportation to the local shops ready for sale.  Buyers will then have to process it further to make it ready for the cooking pot.

When you are selecting sea cucumber, go through the following steps,

  1. Use your nose; does it smell rotten, or just a salty fishy smell?  For the bigger species, if there is a rotten smell, it is due to the poor processing during harvesting.  The 'intestines' may not have been cleaned out properly, or it is not dried enough.  Some sea cucumber from areas where there is a high rainfall are smoked dried.  This give them a smoky aroma but may compromise the final quality before cooking, and unnecessarily give it a darker colour.  Normally, a slightly fishy-salty is acceptable.  
  2. Use your hand;  Feels the dried sea cucumber.  Is it soft like' rubber', or hard as a rock, or in between.  Of course different species have a different feel.  Generally, choose those that are between hard rock and 'rubber'.  Too soft and it becomes literally 'too soft' on the first boil or even melt away.  Too hard, and you may end up with having to repeatedly boil the sea cucumber when you are preparing it for cooking.  Also may end up with a tough as nails texture on the dinner plate. 
  3. If the sea cucumber is coated with a hard white 'calcium' , it makes it harder to clean. 
  4. If there is too much salt crystal , avoid it, especially if you do not intend to prepare all of what you buy.  Salt can absord moisture and cause the flesh of the sea cucumber to rot during storage.
  5. Choose the correct specie for your dish.  The general rule is
    • Stew: Sandfish / Teat Fish / Prickly Red / Surf Fish (Yellow and Red) 
    • Soup : Sand Fish/ Disco Fish / Surf Fish
    • Stir Fry :  Disco Fish / Sand Fish
      • I avoid a specie called "Elephant Trunk" as it can have a rather bitter taste as well as give some people a allergic reaction.  Consequently, it is one of the cheapest sea cucumber you can buy.
    • If you find the above too difficult, bu it frozen (ready to cook).  Just leave it in basin of clean water for a few hours and it should be ready to cook. However, be warned, some processed sea cucumber  in the wet markets literally dissolve during the cooking and some smell of chemical used during the processing.  If you find a good source, keep to it.  Or recommend it to me!!  
    I will add some pictures later.  Next Blog: How to process the dried Sea Cucumber.