Sea Cucumbers

Marine kingdom of sea cucumbers

In the oceanic waters of Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Philippines, Indonesia, Seychelles and Africa, there lies a great wealth of sea cucumbers. Under natural history, they are classified as the Echinoderms group. Biologists believed there are countless other species yet to be defined. Generally, sea cucumbers like to breed in clean, uncontaminated waters filled with corals. Normally embedded in a depth of 40-60 feet sandy grounds, they at times do perch on top of sea-bed rocks, forming a friendly colony with sea urchins and starfishes.

Environmentalists treasure these sea creatures as it helps in the natural evolution cycle of the Earth. Plants grow in the sea and produces oxygen to make the air breathable. Sea cucumbers nurtured on these drifting algae plants as it provides the right food for them. The marine plankton and the plant plankton co-habitat with one another. Thus,over many generations, a chain of evolution forms.

Throughout its life cycle, both sexes of sea cucumbers have good reproductive years. During the spawning season, sperms released are likely to fertilized with eggs breed. After the hatching period, larvae evolve and begin to develop slowly. Small larvae may be food to the bigger fishes, crustaceans, prawns, molluscs, octopuses who prey on them.

A matured sea cucumber has its own biological defensive weapon. When provoked, it is prompted to thrust out its internal organs but returns quickly to its normal self when left alone. They are normally harvested at a depth of 40-60 feet but sometimes it gets down to 100 feet deep. After the harvest, they are brought up to shores. The cleaning process begins but it does differ slightly in the processing for each variety caught.

1) Sea cucumbers are quite fat-free and possess good proteins. This is a much sought after dried seafood delicacy. Hokkiens (a dialect group of the Chinese) will definitely cook this ingredient as festive food.
2) In Cantonese, it is known as Hoi Sum. It incorporates a pun with a symbolic rhyme of Happy hearts. This is reasonable enough why sea cucumbers make good gift packs during Chinese New Year.

A first-hand knowledge of:

(A) Steps taken in cleaning teat fish for export(chee poh sum in Cantonese):
Use sea water to soak it for eight hours. Change sea water constantly, till it is clean. Bring sea water or plain water to a boil. Add in a couple of sea cucumbers to boil for 45 minutes. Repeat with the rest of sea cucumbers. Turn off the heat and let it cool naturally. Slice open at a length of two-three cm and clean off entrails. Repeat the boiling step all over again to do a thorough job.
After the cooling process, pierce a sharp, bamboo skewer through the body. This helps to retain its shape. Flip over to rest it on its tummy side. Put it out into the sun to dry. Later, roast it in the oven for a while to ensure even drying. Remove the skewer and to retain a shape, bind it with a string each. Place it under the scorching sun to dry again. Untie the string, sort out the grades and it is ready for export.

(B) Processing sand fish
Clean off all entrails. Drain dry on bamboo racks. Boil and let it cool naturally. Bury it in the sand for 15-18 hours. Bring it out and give it a good scrub. Boil again, cool thoroughly and a final step, sun it once more. Only properly dried sea cucumbers can have a good storage life. This is then marketed to the middleman who would resell it for culinary and medicinal purposes.

The cleaning process of sea cucumbers:

Sea cucumbers, disregarding sizes and colours, possess the same nutrients. They contain loads of protein and are low in fats and cholesterol. Being nicknamed as Ginseng of the sea, it is believed to have some curative remedies. The jelly-like fibrous, spongy substance are considered to be good for hypertension and is an aphrodisiac in the Chinese health benefit language.

A few points are printed here to help you to select a prime buy. The sea cucumbers must be really dried, knock it against a table's surface. Listen to the strong sound, the heavier the echo, the better it is. Well dried sea cucumbers have a good storage life. The spiky chee sum can easily be recognised. Teat fish or chee poh sum is sturdy built and has two little spikes at the sides. Some are not too obvious and at times it can be mistaken for another variety, which bears a close resemblence.

Sand fish has a rounder appearance and has horizontal lines across. This is the most common type for household purchases. It needs a trained eye to choose the varieties and a non-unscrupulous dealer to help you.

When you need to cook sea cucumbers, prepare the tedious task, days ahead. Give it a wash, soak it in a basin of tap water for one day. On the second day, boil a pot of water. Turn off the heat, immerse in the sea cucumbers and cover up the pot. Soak for the whole day. On the third day, split open the stomach, remove all entrails, scrub it inside out, very clean with a brush. Boil another pot of water. Turn off heat and immerse cucumbers in again till it is soft enough. Remember the water must be boiling hot before you turn off the heat, the pot and water must be free of oil. As a matter of fact, you never soak dried seafood of any kind in water that has even a drop of oil. The sea cucumbers should have doubled its size now. To remove the fishy odour, place slices of old ginger, stalks of spring onion and some Chinese cooking wine into a pot. You either use a stock or plain water to cook it for 15-30 minutes. After this process, it should be ready for its pairing-off with other ingredients. Sea cucumbers are virtually tasteless on its own. It absorbs the flavour from stock of the dishes. It can withstand long terms of cooking like braising, double-boiling, simmering or it can be stir-fried with sauces ranging from savoury, sweet, sourish or spicy.

At any rate, try cooking our recipes printed. The enthusiastic home cook will surely be able to dish up something wonderful for this festival. Happy cooking.

Selected Recipes:


1 piece chee poh sum
10 stalks Shanghai flat cabbages/ siew pak choy
10 pieces fresh scallops
100g small prawns
100g black dried mushrooms (soaked, sliced)
100g braised peanuts (canned type)
300g pork (minced)
4 slices ginger
5 stalks spring onion
1 litre superior stock
2 tbsp Maggi concentrated chicken stock
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp chicken granules powder
A little pepper
Some dark soy sauce
For thickening: mix together
1 tsp tapioca flour
1 tbsp water
1. Put sea cucumber, ginger, spring onions, superior stock and seasoning to braise for 1 hour. Place it on a plate. Keep aside.
2. Blanch siew pak choy with a little oil, salt. Drain and surround the plate with it.
3. Fry mushrooms, peanuts, small prawns and minced pork. Pour in the gravy from no.(1). Cook till it is semi-dry. Thicken the gravy and pour over no.(1) which has been garnished with the blanched vegetable. Serve hot.


1 piece sand fish
200g big prawns meat
200g tomatoes (diced)
50g old ginger (sliced)
50g garlic (minced)
50g red chillies (minced)
4 tbsp tomato sauce
Marinade for prawns: a little each
Salt, sugar, pepper powder, tapioca flour
2 tbsp black good quality vinegar
2 tbsp Thai chilli sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
A little pepper
A little water
For thickening: mix together
1 tsp tapioca flour
A little water
1. Heat wok, add in 2 tbsp oil. Saut?garlic, chilly and ginger. Add in tomatoes, tomato sauce and sea cucumber. Stir-fry till aromatic and add in a little water. Simmer over low heat for 1 hour till flavour develops.
2. In the meantime, mash the prawn meat with the blade of a cleaver. Add in marinade and beat till a paste forms.
3. Stuff no.(2) into the cooked sea cucumber which has been brushed with a layer of tapioca flour. Steam the stuffed sea cucumber for 10 minutes on high heat. Remove from heat and cut it into pieces.
4. Bring the seasoning to a boil. Thicken gravy and pour over no.(3).


10 pieces small sand fish
10 French beans (cut into sections)
10g dried sole fish (diced)
100g crab meat (see tips)
20g cured ham (diced)
500ml superior stock
1 tbsp Maggi concentrated chicken stock
1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp chicken granules powder
1 tbsp light soy sauce
A little pepper
For thickening: mix together
1/2 tbsp tapioca flour
A little water
1. Deep-fry both crab meat and ham.
2. In wok, add in 3 tbsp oil and saut?dried sole fish. Add in the sea cucumbers.
3. Add in seasoning, superior stock and cook over low heat till sea cucumbers absorb in the flavours.
4. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thicken gravy and add in no.(1).
5. Blanch French beans with a little oil and salt to keep its green colour. Garnish the plate with it.
Tips: Steam crabs and flake off the meat. You can buy processed type from shops or supermarkets.


10 pieces chee poh sum (disregarding sizes)
10 black dried mushrooms (soaked soft, cut a cross in the centre)
1 dried cuttlefish (soaked, shredded)
5 pips garlic (peel skins)
1 cinnamon stick/ kayu manis
1 star anise/ bunga lawang
10 honey peas
500ml superior stock
1 tbsp Maggi concentrated chicken stock
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp chicken granules powder
A little pepper
For thickening: mix together
1 tsp tapioca flour
A little water
1. Heat wok, add in 4 tbsp oil. On high heat, saut?cinnamon bark, star anise and garlic pieces. Add in chee poh sum, mushrooms, dried cuttlefish, and stir-fry well.
2. Add in superior stock, seasoning and bring it to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 1/2 hour. Taste and adjust seasoning. Thicken the gravy and dish up.
3. Blanch honey peas with a little oil and salt to keep its green colour. Garnish the plate with it. Serve hot.


1/2 portion of a pig's fore-trotter (chop into pieces)
1/2 rice bowl oil
600g pre-soaked sea cucumbers
2 whole bulbs of garlic (leave skins on)
A little minced garlic
1 tbsp sugar
1 litre water
2 tbsps Chinese cooking wine
2 tbsps soy sauce
1 tsp salt
A little pepper
1. Parboil pig's trotter pieces for five minutes. This is to remove the oil and scums. Dish up and drain dry.
2. In luke warm oil, stir-fry sea cucumber pieces. Remove and drain away excess oil.
3. Heat clean wok, add in 1/2 rice bowl oil and caramel the sugar till a light golden colour is achieved. Do this process on a very low heat. When the sugar solution is bubbly, put in no.(1). Stir well over a high heat.
4. Add in minced garlic, seasoning and water. Simmer over medium heat for 1 hour.
5. Add in the whole garlic bulbs and sea cucumbers. Top with extra water if necessary. After 1/2 hour, check ingredients for tenderness and gravy should be rather thick in consistency.
6. Finally, drizzle in the Chinese cooking wine and dish up contents.


1 dozen goose webbed feet (chop off claws)
1 kg pre-soaked/ cleaned, good quality sea cucumbers (sand fish)
1 whole floret of broccoli
3 slices cekor (sar keong)
1 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns
4 star anise/ bunga lawang
1 piece cinnamon bark/ kayu manis
A pot of water
1/2 bowl oil (see method, step 3)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp oyster sauce
A little salt
A little MSG/ Aji-no-moto
A little dark soy sauce
1 tbsp fragrant oil (see tips 3)
For thickening: mix well
1 tbsp tapioca flour or cornflour
1 tbsp water
1. Make a bouquet garni. Use a small piece of cheesecloth, put in cekor, peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon bark and tie it with a string. Place this small bag of flavouring in a pot of water and boil on high heat for 1/2 hour. Add in a little salt and rock sugar to taste. Pour boiled solution into a big soup bowl, keep aside to cool.
2. Parboil goose webbed feet, remove and rinse it in cold water. Remove and drain.
3. Heat up 1/2 bowl oil, add in 1 tbsp sugar and stir over low heat till it turns bubbly and is a golden hue. Add in goose webbed feet and stir well. Remove and put into no.(1). Place all into a pot and boil over high heat for 2 hours or more till the feet are tender enough for the palate.
4. Heat oil and stir fry sea cucumbers. Add in Chinese cooking wine, then seasoning. Simmer over low heat for 1/2 hour till sea cucumbers are edible.
5. Add in no.(3), thickening and doused with two tbsp fragrant oil.

1. To caramel sugar, the oil must not be too hot and you must not burn the sugar.
2. You may replace goose webbed feet with normal chicken feet. The preparation is the same.
3. To make fragrant oil: Put 50g minced garlic, 50g minced shallots, a whole plant of Chinese coriander including the roots into 500ml of oil in a wok.Cook over low heat till it is bubbly and golden in colour.

1 comment:

Dora said...

Nice writeup and recipes for sea cucumbers! Will share this with my friends. ;)