Well, something uniquely New Zealand is black-foot abalone, or Paua. It’s one of those mollusks that make people’s eyes water at the thought of their extreme deliciousness.

Trouble is, you can’t buy them. This means that all over the country grown men are donning heavy wetsuits and heading out in the middle of winter to gather them from the rockly coastlines. And here’s what they get.

Most of these are still live, by the way.

Paua is one of those delicacies you hear a lot about, but see people mishandling regularly. They get plundered from the shoreline by dickheads so they can be bleached and sold to China, and they get murdered by idiots who don’t know how to harvest them.

Trick number one. Don’t take that paua off the rock unless you’re pretty damn sure it’s legal (125mm long). If you accidentally stab the flesh of the paua removing it, it will bleed to death. Poor things have never developed blood clotting. Second trick, try to place them foot-down in the water if you’ve taken them off the rock. Prevents them getting nailed by big fish as soon as you swim away.

Anyhow. The ones in the photo above have been checked as legal, and need to be cleaned. Most people just rip them out of the shells, but here’s a technique I learned awhile back to make that a little easier.

Take note of the row of holes along the outside of the shell. What you’re aiming to do is dig your thumb in under the flesh of the paua, and follow that line of holes.

There’s no way to photograph this, but right in the centre of the shell is a white “toe” that you need to lever off the shell.

If you manage to dig your thumb under that toe the paua flesh will pop off, and you can remove it.

On the left is the black “foot” of paua, and on the right is me digging my thumb under it, along the line of the holes.

Once you get the the hard toe, really dig your thumb under there, and when it pops up, push it all way from the shell, as shown to the right.

What you’re trying to do is separate the toe, then separate the foot from all the membranes and gut that line the inside of the shell.

Essentially, the foot attaches to the toe, and around the line where the two connect is a black “skirt” that runs from the connection point out to the edge of the shell. You can separate it by just running your thumb around the lip of the shell, it comes away pretty easily, thereby exposing the hua, or gut. This is the green stuff shown below.

The green is the hua, the grey-brown the skirt, and the light grey the toe. Here’s another shot. Everything other than the toe and foot is optional to eat…

I tried and tried to get a decent photo of the next bit, but just couldn’t. Thing is, once you separate off the foot and toe, you need to push out the paua’s teeth. They’re two bones just at the front of the paua, at the opposite end to the hua.

What you need to do is run your thumb firmly around the toe where it connects to the foot. You’ll feel the hard teeth under the flesh, and if you work them round, they’ll pop out. They’re kind of white and red-brown, and aren’t too much work to remove.

Pretty soon you’ll have a bowl looking like this.

You’ll note the tea-towel and hammer of course.

I like to leave my paua overnight before tenderising it. It lets all this “starchy” kind of blood out, and the foot softens a little. Still needs the hammer though.

Rinse and clean the paua under some fresh water, them pop it up on the tea-towel.

Then, hit it will the hammer.

Actually, you’ll want to wrap it in the teatowel well. The idea is to prevent it from slipping around when you’re hitting it. They’re greasy little buggers, those paua.

I try to work out where the toe is, and where the foot is (it’s not rocket science), and work my way around the foot as close to the toe as possible. You need to really give the foot a few good firm whacks to soft it up, then just a couple of sold whacks on the toe, with the side of the hammer. If you hit it too much the toe will disintegrate, and you want it in one piece. it’s the tastiest bit (IMHO).

Once it feels like the paua is softened up, unwrap it and have a look. Should be a bit like this.

You can see that some of the colour has come off, but the toe is mostly intact, and the whole thing kind of flattened out.

Then, cook it!

Now, unfortunately, we use a secret recipe in our house, and we can’t have too many people liking paua. You’ll fish it all out and there will be none left!