Tuesday, February 18, 2014

First course: Awash in abalone

Nadine Kam photos
Shingo Ochi shows two sizes of Kona Abalone. The approximately 4-inch specimens at left are about 4 years old. At right, shells of 1-1/2 year olds measure about two inches.

Kona Abalone is among the most popular vendors at the Saturday morning Farmers Market at Kapiolani Community College because chowhounds find the succulent, lightly salted pieces of grilled locally grown abalone worth a wait in line.

Now, those who could never make it over to the market in time early enough to enjoy the abalone don't have to worry about setting their alarm clock. Kona Abalone has opened a flagship store at the Makai
Market Food Court at Ala Moana.

The shop, at the Diamond Head end of the food court, offers more than the simple grilled abalone sold at the Farmers Market. The store will also sell packaged abalone, including canned and vacuum-packed versions that are travel proofed for premium made-in-Hawaii gift giving.

If you're wondering how they can keep up with demand, The Big Island Abalone Corp. maintains an inventory of more than 4 million abalone on its 10-acre site.

Grilled abalone, packaged and ready to go at prices ranging from $10 to $15 depending on the abalone's size and numbers. For example, one large abalone is $10, two medium size is $11, three smalls are $11, and a pack with three large runs $15.

A sampler of smoked salmon, ocean salad with abalone and two pieces of abalone. Two pieces of the abalone are more filling than expected, and left me feeling light and energized.

BIAC raises a premium stock of Ezo (Northern Japanese) abalone. The success of Kona Abalone is the result of 16 years of research that led to important findings about abalone habitat and innovations in farm feeding practices.

CEO Hiroshi Arai said there were many setbacks in the process, but all along, he maintained faith in the viability of abalone he considers to be the best in the world because of the controlled environment in which they are raised, that allow the mollusks to thrive.

The farming system uses a constant supply of pure, cold, nutrient-rich Pacific Ocean sea water, pumped from a depth of more than 3,000 feet by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA).

BIAC's facilities include a hatchery, a nursery and abalone grow-out tanks, ensuring that BIAC controls the quality of the abalone from the start of the mollusks' growth cycle. The abalone is fed a proprietary red algae (dulse), also bred onsite to optimize the abalone's flavor, nutrition, texture, color, and even shell characteristics.
Big Island Abalone is in the Ala Moana Center Makai Market Food Court, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd. Call 808.941.4120. Open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays, except center holidays. www.bigislandabalone.com

CEO Hiroshi Arai shows premium canned Kona Abalone.

Arai is interviewed by another reporter.

Abalone sashimi.

Abalone may be to the Hawaii tourist market what smoked salmon is to Seattle. Kona Abalone is boxed or canned for omiyage. A single box is $20. These three packs, including decorative shells, are $56. So that nothing goes to waste, a shell assortment is $5.

Or opt for canned abalone, at $18 per can, or $52 for a three-pack.

Packages of Kona sea salt are also available.

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