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,
- 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.
- 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.
- If the sea cucumber is coated with a hard white 'calcium' , it makes it harder to clean.
- 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.
- 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.
I will add some pictures later. Next Blog: How to process the dried Sea Cucumber.