The Sea Cucumber is a seabed dwelling marine animal which feeds on microscopic algae, absorbing nutrients from the organic matter. This oblong shaped gelatinous creature resembles a cucumber, hence the name. It's called 'haishen' in Mandarin which literally means 'ginseng of the sea'. From the nutritional point of view, sea cucumber is an ideal tonic food, high in protein with no calorie and no fat. Having a cartilagenous body, the sea cucumber serves as a rich source of mucopolysacchrides, substances that are used to build cartilage and chondroitin sulfate, known for its ability to reduce arthritis.
Sea cucumber has been used for thousands of years by Asians as a culinary delicacy. Although rather bland in taste on its own, it has the ability to absorb and accentuate the flavours and seasoning of the other ingredients in which it is cooked. It's used in soups, stir-fry or braised dishes, and in particular sea cucumber meals have been offered on special occasions especially New Year celebrations. Read more on sea cucumber from Wikipedia.
How to soften dried sea cucumbers.
- First and foremost, the pot used to boil the water to soak the dried sea cucumbers must be free from oil and grease. It should be fairly deep because the sea cucumbers will expand upon soaking.
- The total process takes 4 days and they must be soaked 8 times in boiled water, twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. During the process make sure that the pot does not get contaminated with rice water.
- Boil a pot of water, enough to cover the sea cucumbers and once boiled, turn off the heat, put in the dried sea cucumbers, cover the pot. Then in the evening, discard the water, boil a fresh round of water and once boiled, turn off heat and soak in the dried sea cucumbers. Cover the pot and leave overnight.
- Repeat this process and on the 3rd day, (by this time they should be slightly soft), make a slit in the centre of the sea cucumbers and remove the entrails, innards, etc. and wash under running water.
- Boil water again and soak them for another day.
- After the 4th day, discard the water, wash them under running water. By now they should be soft and tender to the touch, ready for cooking.
- If they're not required to be cooked immediately, freeze them for future use.
The sea cucumbers being soaked in the boiled water on the 4th day. Washed and cut up ready to be used.
Mushrooms, soaked, stems cut off and big ones have been halved.
Pork knuckles being blanched in hot water to remove the scum.
All the ingredients in the wok, simmering till the meat is tender and the sea cucumbers, soft.
mmm .... the feeling of succulent jelly-like texture of the sea cucumber with the flavourful stock ..... Yummy!
Recipe for Braised Pork Knuckles with Sea Cucumber
- 250 gm sea cucumbers, (4 pieces) - soaked, cleaned and cut
- 70 gm dried mushrooms (14 pieces) - soaked, stemmed and cut
- 100 gm garlic with skin - crushed
- 2 whole star anise
- a small piece of cinnamon stick
- 1.5 kg pork knuckles
- 4 cups water + another 3 cups after putting in the meat
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp dark soya sauce
- 2 tsp light soya sauce
- 10 - 15 gn rock sugar
- 1 tbsp oil
- Salt to taste
- Boil some water in a wok and once boiling, blanch in the washed pork knuckles to remove scum, about 10 mins.
- Dish out, discard the water and wash the pork knuckles under running water.
- Saute the crushed garlic with 1 Tbsp of oil till fragrant, add in the mushrooms and fry for a while. Add in 4 cups of water, star anise, cinnamon stick and sea cucumber. Bring to the boil.
- Add in the oyster sauce, rock sugar, light and dark soya sauce, and let it cook for about 1/2 an hour on medium heat.
- Then add in the pork knuckles and another 3 cups of water and let it cook for about 2 hours under medium to low heat.
- Once the sea cucumbers are soft and the pork knuckles are tender, then the dish is done.
- Add salt to taste.
- Dish out and Serve.
Slowly braise over slow fire, till the knuckles and sea cucumber are soft and gelatinous, after some hours.
This dish will taste even better if it is cooked a day before.