Paua definitely wears its beauty on the inside. Its flesh is a delicacy, while the iridescent shell has been the stuff of both high art and kitsch.
Paua’s popularity, both here and abroad, led to legal restrictions around its harvest. Scuba equipment is banned for all paua fishing – only snorkelling or free-diving is permitted. Recreational paua fishermen can take no more than ten paua per person a day, and paua should measure at least 125mm in length. This relates to the maturity of the paua – at this size they will have reproduced, replenishing the population.
Paua are vulnerable because even the slightest cut will lead to them eventually bleeding to death. So, if you are unsure about whether a paua is the right size, either leave it or measure it first without disturbing it.
Perfectly cooked paua is a delicate morsel, but if you are not careful in preparing it, it can be tough and rubbery. There are a few different approaches to keeping paua tender. You need to go gently when harvesting paua – it’s better to use tools designed for the purpose, and definitely not a sharp knife. The idea is to slide the tip of the tool as far under the paua foot as possible then gently lever it off the rock.
If you should remove paua that are undersized, return them as close to their original position as possible, and hold them against a smooth rock surface until they clamp on.
Then be gentle in easing the flesh out of the shell. It’s the fleshy foot that you are after, so you’ll need to remove the gut sack and the teeth circle.
Some suggest leaving the paua in the fridge or freezer for a few hours before taking the flesh out of the shell – this kills the paua but perhaps the softness of the flesh suggests it’s done in the least stressful way. And finally, the most common advice for tenderising is to give the flesh a few solid thwacks with a cooking mallet after it has been shucked.
For cooking, the simplest approach is often the best. Cut the flesh into very thin slices with a sharp knife. Heat a hot plate over medium high heat, add a knob of butter, crushed garlic to taste, and paua. Sauté for 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.