Pantry 101: Pearly Shells (The Foodie Magazine, May 2014)

“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster” – Jonathan Swift

Although Indonesia is an archipelago and a maritime country, many Indonesians do not really pay attention to the distinct characteristics of the shellfish that they eat every day, they rather generalize everything as kerang only.

In truth, these lovely bivalve creatures are divided into many types from cockles, clams, scallops, oysters, and mussels.

Let’s get to know these tasty bounty from the sea!

Blood cockles are quite known as the staple of many seafood stalls in Indonesia. The blood cockle is small, with sizes ranging between 2-5cm, and possesses a unique red haemoglobin liquid that resembles ‘blood’ in the body. Finding these cockles may not seem easy because they burrow down into sand and mud, but once found, they are abundant in numbers.

With its delicate yet sweet taste, this type of cockle is usually served in a straightforward way, commonly raw, roasted or steamed. However in Indonesia, it is commonly boiled and served with a fruity-tasting sambal. Moreover, due to Chinese cuisine influence, these cockles are commonly stir-fried with garlic or with oyster sauce. I n the West, blood cockles are used in salads, soups, chowders, pasta, and in Southern-style seafood gumbo.

Also known in Asia as the bamboo clam for its distinct shell resembling a bamboo, hence popularly known as kerang bambu in Indonesia. These tube-like clams with a sweet taste and firm texture have only recently made it to Western restaurants in the United States, unlike their Asian counterparts which have been serving them for many years.

Like the cockles, these clams burrow deep and move fast, thus making them hard to catch. They are quite popular in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Korean cooking. Moreover, they are highly prized in Italy and many tapas bars in Spain.

The green mussel may have its notorious side in some cases, but it still is edible and people can never get enough of these green beauties. As they are abundant in number and particularly cheap, oftentimes you will see street hawkers selling steamed green mussels in residential neighborhoods in Indonesia.

Like oysters with its juice, the sea water inside the mussel shell is rich in umami and usually contributes additional taste and aroma to the dish. While it is commonly just steamed in Asian countries, the French often add garlic, shallots, and white wine to it. Baked mussels is also a popular dish to be found in Western and Italian restaurants.

Known as escalope in French, scallops are highly prized although they are found in all the world’s oceans. Making it even more exotic, wild fisheries on specific oceans employ divers to directly harvest the scallops from the ocean bed as it is considered to be more environmental friendly.

Even so, both fresh and frozen scallops are available all year round. Despite the fact that scallops may be more popular in Western cuisines and Japanese, Indonesia has a growing interest with this particular edible mollusk. It is probably because scallops doesn’t feel too seafood-ish like the rest of the shellfish thanks to its appearance, fleshy texture, sweet flavor, and its versatility to be cooked in many ways.

Popular scallop dishes in the West require serve them seared or grilled. In the East, the scallops are often made into sushi or sashimi – known as hotategai in Japan, and dried or steamed in China and Taiwan.

There’s nothing sexier than oysters, right? Not only are they delicious and highly flexible when it comes to cooking, several members of the oyster family are inedible species that produce pearls as well!

Raw oysters have complex flavors in accord with the characteristics of the water that nurtures them as they may become sweet, earthy, salty, and sometimes melon-y. Other methods of cooking them involve smoking, baking, frying, roasting, stewing, steaming, and you name it – so many!

Although it is still less popular in Indonesia, oysters are more popular in many tapas bars, Mediterranean seafood shacks, and haute restaurants. They are often served freshly shucked, still possessing the sea water they were harvested from. The simplest serving usually allows only a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of pepper or salt, to savor it’s juice. Or in a more elaborate way but still according to the purists way, with shallot vinegar or cocktail sauce aside from the usual lemon juice.

Spared from the rest of bivalve family we featured in this article, the abalone is actually classified as one of the edible gastropods among others like the conches or whelks.

Highly exquisite and considered as delicacy in certain parts of the world, the dried abalone is even prized higher than even shark’s fin or sea cucumber. In Chinese cuisine, abalone is considered as a luxury item and even reserved only special occasions, while Japanese cuisine utilizes live, raw abalone for sushi. Apart from these, abalone is made into Korean-style stew, braised, grilled, and fermented with salt. However, it is relatively unheard of in Indonesia except when found in expensive restaurants.

Even so, overfishing has been the real issue that causes the threat of the extinction of abalone despite fishing permits are issued specifically for this species in certain countries.


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Featured in THE FOODIE MAGAZINE May 2014 edition

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