The abalone is a gastropod found in most of the oceans in the world and prized as a culinary treat among the Japanese and residents of the West Coast of the United States, among others. Due to concerns about over harvesting, many nations have limits on how many may be taken, and some entrepreneurs have opened abalone farms so that they can be harvested and sold legally. Like other edible gastropods, the part that is eaten is the large muscular foot, which forms the majority of the body.
An abalone is a univalve, meaning that it has one shell, rather than two symmetrical shells, like with clams and oysters. The shell is a slightly flatted whorl, resembling an ear, with a slightly elevated apex at the center of the spiral. Along one edge of the shell, there are small holes to support respiration, and the creature lurks inside the shell, clinging to rocks with its foot while it searches for algae and other food sources. If the abalone can be prised from a rock, the entire underside of the foot is exposed. The inside of a shell resembles mother of pearl, and is frequently used ornamentally in jewelry and inlay, while the outside of the shell is reddish brown in color. Most host seaweeds and smaller mollusks on their shells for camouflage.
Abalone reproduce by releasing eggs or sperm into open water. Usually, large groups gather in a single location to do this, increasing the change of fertilization. The fertilized eggs form larva called veligers, which drift in the ocean for approximately two weeks until they develop into baby abalone and seek out rocks to make their homes on. If allowed to grow to maturity, they can get quite large, and will develop interesting occlusions in their shells as a result of encounters with rocks and other organisms.
In many regions, there is a size limit on abalone to prevent the harvest of juvenile specimens. The size limit varies depending on local regulations, and many areas also have an overall capture limit which a fisherman cannot exceed in a season. Farmed abalone are not subject to these regulations. In any case, once one has been pried from a rock, it itself must be removed from the shell and trimmed, leaving the edible foot behind.
Because the foot is a muscle, it needs to be tenderized before being eaten. Most cooks tenderize the foot whole by pounding it with mallets before slicing it thin and pounding it again. A classic method of preparation involves breading and frying, but some adventurous cooks add it to pasta sauces or make sushi with the rich white flesh. Breaded and fried abalone is delicious hot or cold served with a wedge of lemon, and is a popular food in California in particular.