Muscat: The harvest of Omani abalone - one of the finest in the world - has started in the southern Dhofar region of the Sultanate, where the gastropod mollusc is found in abundance. The 360km patch between the Wilayat of Mirbat and the Sharbatha District in the Wilayat of Shaleem and Al Hallaniyat Islands in Dhofar is the region rich in abalone. The current production quantity - 24 metric tons - is low when compared to previous seasonal harvest.
Known locally as safaleh, abalone is one of the most expensive marine resources. There are around 56 species of abalone globally, found in the oceans’ kelp forests (underwater areas with a high density of kelp, which covers a large part of the world’s coastlines). As demand soars, abalone has been dubbed ‘white gold’ due to the high prices it commands, and also because of the colour of its flesh.
The average price of Omani abalone per kilogram went from Omani riyals 21 (Dh77) in 1988 to 60 in 1997, and after the closure of its catch for three years, the price per kilogram shot up from RO42 in 2011 to RO59 in subsequent years.
Some types of abalone are caught in the Sultanate and exported dried to various countries, including in the Far East, where it is re-marketed and re-exported to global markets, with a very high price tag.
Abalone contains bioactive compounds that exhibit anti-oxidant, anti-thrombotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties.
Early morning harvest
Abalone fishermen get ready in the early hours during harvest season with their knife-like, simple tools, goggles, and a net that is worn around the waist to collect their catch. In the evening, they return to land and work to extract the meat of abalone from its shell with a sharp tool known locally as ‘Al Jazra’.
Once the abalones are shucked clean, the fishermen go to the traders’ sites to sell their daily harvest according to the agreed price. The longer the drying period, the higher the quality of abalone. Then it is canned and sold to foreign markets, especially to East Asian countries. Hong Kong is a major market for Omani abalone due to its quality and scarcity.
Abalones also goes by the name of ear shells, sea ears, and muttonfish or muttonshells in Australia, ormer in the UK, perlemoen in South Africa, and paua in New Zealand.
As it is a type of a snail, abalone has a wonderfully silky but slightly chewy texture which can become quite tough if cooked incorrectly. When eaten raw, it has a crunchy feel in the centre. Flavour-wise, it is known for its mild, subtly sweet and buttery taste. It has a very mild fresh ocean flavour, similar to scallops.
Garlic chilly Abalone
(Marinating time 30 minutes)
You will need, 50ml good extra virgin olive oil, two garlic cloves, finely sliced, One medium-sized red chilli, seeds removed and julienned, one large green chilli, seeds removed and julienned, one lemon-juice extracted, salt and pepper as per taste, two whole abalone, freshly shucked, cleaned, scrubbed and trimmed, cilantro to garnish.
In a bowl combine the olive oil, garlic, chilli and lemon juice. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. This will be the marinade.
Tenderise the abalone by slow cooking for a few minutes in very low heat and then very finely slice the abalone into 1–2 mm thick slices. Toss into the marinade and stir to cover evenly. Marinate for 30 minutes. Heat a wok or heavy-based frying pan over a high heat until very hot. Throw all the abalone and marinade in and stir-fry for 2–3 minutes. Watch out as it hits the high heat. Serve immediately garnished with some coriander.