Perlemoen, also commonly called abalone (a-buh-LOH-nee), ear-shell, in Guernsey ormer (Fr. ormier, for oreille de mer), awabi in Japan, muttonfish in Australia and pãua in New Zealand.
Perlemoen is greatly sought after as a delicacy and is available canned or fresh, although sometimes it is undeservedly labelled as being tough. This is more the result of ill-treatment during preparation and cooking — usually overcooking. The edible part of the perlemoen is the large muscular “foot” with which it clings to rocks. This muscle contracts tightly as soon as the animal is removed from it anchorage and careful handling is vital if the meat is to relax and therefore become tender.
A beautiful iridescent mother-of-pearl lines the large ear-shaped shell. This gave rise to its South African name, a corruption of the Afrikaans “pêrel moeder” to “pêrel moer” and hence perlemoen. It is also colloquially known by the charming name “klipkous”, i.e. “stone sock”. The shell can be cleaned to make a pretty serving vessel although the holes should first be sealed with candlewax or the shell lined with a bed of cooked rice and placed on a fish plate; otherwise the juices run riot through the little holes in the bottom. The lining of the shell is also used to make buttons.
Soak overnight in their shells in a bucket of cold water, to which 1 bottle of vinegar and ash (if available) have been added. This will remove most of the sliminess. Remove from the shell and, using a hard scrubbing brush, scrub the tentacles until white. The tentacles should not be removed as this is the tastiest part of the perlemoen. Scrub to remove the slime from the sucker or green part. Do not scrub all the green matter away as it adds to the flavour. There are two schools of thought over what to do with the fringe or “beard”. Some aficionados claim it has a special flavour; others recoil in horror at the thought of eating it and cut it off. Freeze or use as soon as it has been cleaned. Perlemoen can be frozen for 10–12 months either in the shell or sliced into steaks.
Perlemoen tends to be rather tough if not sliced correctly. The easiest way to slice it is diagonally but unfortunately this produces a tough end product. Slice horizontally into five or more steaks and pound each with a mallet until limp, to relax the flesh. As it is pounded, each steak will spread out but it is not necessary to pulverise it until paper-thin. If you intend sautéing the perlemoen in clarified butter, cut as many thin steaks as possible and cook for only 1 or 2 minutes.
Crumbed and Fried Perlemoen : Slice perlemoen into strips against the grain. Pound with a meat mallet until soft and limp. Coat with egg and breadcrumbs or flour, and fry very quickly in hot oil or butter until golden. Season with salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges.
Crisp-fried Perlemoen in Batter : Slice approximately 4 perlemoen thinly. Dip in batter and fry in heated cooking oil until golden-brown. Drain on paper towel and serve immediately.
Fried Perlemoen : Thinly slice perlemoen and dredge in cake flour. Heat equal amounts of butter and cooking oil in a frying pan. As soon as the mixture browns, fry the perlemoen rapidly for 1–2 minutes (not longer, otherwise it will be tough.) When all the perlemoen has been fried, add a little heated dry white wine, chopped parsley and 1 clove finely chopped garlic to the pan. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, pour over the perlemoen and serve immediately on cooked rice.