Spicy Seafood Stew w/Kauai Shrimp & Hawaii Abalone

November 14, 2008
Another post that has been back-logged... The biggest stumbling block was finding time and the will to process and edit the photos to go with these last two posts.

A look back at our last few nights on Oahu and some of incredible local seafood: Shrimp from Kauai and Abalone from the Big Island.

In the midst of the rush to leave Oahu, there were so-o-o-o many things to do and so many decisions to be made: what to take, what to leave behind, how will the cats fly across country — with us or alone. One thing was a no-brainer: that we were going to do justice to the stock of Hawaii seafood, natural grass-fed beef, and produce we had in the pantry and freezer — we weren’t going to give them away or just cook them for the sake of finishing them off, we were going to savor and enjoy them... No matter what... Even if we had to eat 5 meals a day...

This is easier said than done because Life Happens — meals take time to plan and prepare and often the days were too short and after a day of packing, cleaning, and dealing with bureaucratic details, our energy level was pretty much ZERO. So it wasn’t until we had moved out of our rental house and into a vacation condo in Waikiki, shipped the car, and sent the cats safely on their way to Washington that we had the time and energy to return to meal-planning for some of the more prized treasures in the freezer — succulent, sweet shrimp from Kauai and plump and luxurious abalone from the Big Island.

I have only had fresh abalone once before, almost 20 years earlier — it was the large meaty California abalone that can be found in the cold deep waters north of San Francisco. Those dessert plate-sized shellfish had been harvested by a friend’s family, and then sliced thin and lightly pan-fried with garlic and wine. Sweet, tender but with a chew — absolutely divine. I was also familiar with the abalone-like shellfish that is sold canned in many Asian markets — much more chewy and salty, often cooked in an oyster sauce with mushrooms and other vegetables. The Hawaii-grown abalone were miniature and cute — the largest not much bigger than a half-dollar. They’re sold under wrap on styroform trays, and even when defrosted smelled of the ocean, and appeared to have lost no moisture while frozen. We removed them from the shell and added them to the seafood stew below. After their brief bath in the spicy broth, they came out tasty and tender, with a slight chew reminiscent of chopped littleneck clams.

Oahu has a shrimp farm or two on its North Shore, in and around Kahuku, and we were great fans of sweet Kahuku shrimp, both fresh and cooked from the many “shrimp trucks” that dot Kahuku, Haleiwa, and even downtown Waikiki. But earlier this summer Rowena’s post about the Taste of Hawaii featured large Kauai prawns as one of the entrees, and this sent us on a quest to find Kauai prawns on Oahu. Expecting to find Kauai prawns in the fresh seafood case, we were disappointed in our search until one day Don Quijote supermarket had a special on Kauai the frozen food aisle. Hmmmm... didn’t sound too promising... frozen shrimp — not prawns — in a 2 lb. bag. But we tried it. And loved it. Wow! To call these shrimp “sweet” is an understatement. They are morsels of sea-sweet succulence.

Our first hint that these shrimp were going to be different from other commercial frozen shrimp came when we first opened the bag to use the shrimp to garnish the Ewa sweet corn soup. Most frozen shrimp smell like nothing (if you’re lucky), or they smell fishy and should be thrown out. These shrimp from the Garden Isle smelled of the ocean — fresh, briny and clean. It was already a delight, and the shrimp weren’t even cooked yet! By the time we were safely ensconced in Waikiki, we still had over a pound of shrimp left, as well as the abalone, 2 grass-fed sirloin steaks from the North Shore, and one last bottle of Pommard hand-carried from Bourgogne. We were going to eat well for our last few days on Oahu...

The shrimp was divided into 2 meals. First, garlic-butter shrimp ala Gilroy was part of a meal of appetizers, or pupus, which also included prosciutto-parmesan bread sticks, methi-potato frittata, locally grown cherry tomatoes, extra-sharp Tillamook cheddar, pickled mango from Haleiwa, and purchased futomaki sushi. Washed down with ice-cold California sparkling wine and with the sunset from our 11th story perch, this was a lazy meal to sit back and reflect on all the things that had happened during our 3+ years in Hawaii. The next night the shrimp was part of a spicy seafood stew (recipe below) — paired with a sourdough loaf and our favorite Zinfandel from Folie a Deux winery, it was our last home-cooked meal on Oahu. The sweet shrimp, spicy Portuguese sausage and tender abalone married well together in the fennel and orange broth.

The Kauai shrimp, like their Kahuku cousins, have a very thin shell that is difficult to remove in one piece — in fact, in dishes like garlic shrimp and this stew, we just pinch off the legs and munch through the shell (similar to eating soft-shell crab), leaving only the taill! I think you can only do this with really thin-shelled shrimp — I wouldn’t try eating through the shell of a black tiger shrimp. Even if you don’t like the idea of munching through the shells, I recommend cooking the shrimp in their shells even though this makes for a messy meal — it keeps the shrimp from losing their distinct sea flavor and sweetness. Just keep a moist towel for each diner on hand.

For our last night in paradise, I hung up my apron and we took our cue from
Tasty Island’s Pomai and booked a seaside table at the Ocean House restaurant, Outrigger Hotel-Kalia, for a most memorable sunset dinner featuring pan-seared Kona Kampachi, another locally farmed fish only available in restaurants in Hawaii. It was a delicious meal, and the view of Diamond Head only a couple of miles away in one direction, and the red setting sun in the other made it unforgettable. (Follow the link to Tasty Island for the photos and write-up that made this a must-do for us before we left.) Thanks for the recommendation, Pomai, it made our bittersweet last evening on Oahu much more sweet than bitter...

Serves 2

We used locally grown shrimp and abalone, and Hawaiian Portuguese sausage in this version to highlight the flavors of the Islands we love — and now miss — so much. But we first discovered this recipe while living in Europe where we used the fish, seafoods and sausages we found there. Use whatever combination of seafoods and spicy sausage are local to you.

3/4 lb. Kauai shrimp, with shell on
(For hints on how to clean and de-vein shrimp with shell on, see
Garlic Shrimp post)
8-12 Big Island miniature abalone, cleaned and removed from their shells
Options: also add 1/2 lb. of flaky fish fillets, such as snapper, salmon, cod or halibut, cut into 2” pieces

4 TBL. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
1 TBL. fennel seed
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspicee, or 6 whole seeds
1 tsp. ground cumin
large pinch of saffron diluted in 1/4 cup hot water
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, diced, reserve juice
1 bottle dry white wine, reserve 1/2 cup
1 cup clam juice or fish broth
sea salt
1 tsp. chili/garlic paste (Sriracha)
1 blood orange or other orange, scrubbed well and sliced
2 TBL. thyme
2 sweet Italian sausages, or chouricos, sliced on the diagonal (we used half of one Hawaiian Portuguese sausage)
6 firm waxy potatoes, boiled and sliced (optional)
(We opted out of the potatoes this time.)

In a large Dutch oven, saute onions and leeks in oil over medium heat until onions are translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Add spices and turn heat up to medium-high. Fry together until spices are fragrant. Add saffron water and stir in.

Add tomatoes, stir well, and cook together for 15-20 minutes, or until tomatoes darken in color. Add wine, broth, salt, chili/garlic paste, orange slices, thyme, and reserved tomato juice. Cover reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes while you brown sausages.

In separate skillet, brown sausage pieces, and add to simmering sauce as you remove them from the pan. Deglaze pan with reserved 1/2 cup wine, and add deglazing liquid to sauce. Simmer another 15 minutes. (You can make the sauce up to this point and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Like many sauces, it improves with time. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes before finishing with the seafood or fish.)

Just before serving, re-heat sauce and add shrimp and abalone. Cover and let simmer another 5 minutes, or until shrimp is cooked through. Remove from heat immediately so abalone and shrimp don’t overcook.

If using potatoes, lay warm potatoes in serving dish, and cover with stew. Garnish with minced parsley or cilantro. Serve with lots of crusty bread to soak up the sauce.