What is Awabi?

G. Wiesen

Awabi is a type of sushi made using the sea animal of the same name, which is a Japanese term for an animal also known as abalone. While the colorful appearance of the inside of the shell may initially suggest that the abalone is similar to an oyster or clam, it is actually a type of snail that is capable of very slow movement along the ocean floor. Awabi is typically served raw or only slightly cooked, and is often served on the shell in a way similar to oysters, often with only a little soy sauce for flavor.

Meat from the awabi, also known as abalone.
Meat from the awabi, also known as abalone.

Fresh abalone are typically harvested from the ocean floor, especially in fairly shallow areas, and are gathered not only to be eaten but for the shells in which they are found. The opalescent qualities of abalone shell have been venerated for use in jewelry and similar applications for many years. Though abalone are frequently eaten in America, the preparation of awabi as a type of sushi is an exquisite form of Japanese cuisine enjoyed both in Japan and America.

People searching for abalone.
People searching for abalone.

Awabi has a noted flavor that is fairly distinct though slightly subtle, making it a favorite treat for people who appreciate such delicate tastes. The texture of the creature is slightly rubbery, and cooking the awabi only increases the toughness and makes it somewhat less palatable. This is why it is a fairly perfect food for use in sushi, as keeping it raw or only lightly cooked does not further increase the rubbery quality.

The awabi is typically separated from its shell and may be cut thinly against the grain of the meat. This is often done with cuts of meat that can be potentially tough or chewy, to increase the tenderness of the cut. The grain typically indicates long bunches of tough muscle, and cutting with the grain would preserve the cut meat as long pieces of muscle. Cutting against this grain, however, creates cuts of meat that consist of short bits of muscle that can be easily chewed and broken down, making them more tender.

Awabi can also be slightly scored with a knife to similarly increase the tenderness of the dish. This also creates a rougher surface that the soy sauce can better coat. The awabi is usually served on the shell, though the nicest looking shells are typically selected, so it may not be served on the shell from which it was originally separated. Farm-raised abalone are typically preferable since they are more sustainable, and wild abalone are often overly harvested.

Awabi is a type of sushi.
Awabi is a type of sushi.

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