Sea Cucumber: What Is It and Can I Put It in a Salad?

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Three kinds of sea cucumbers, ranging in price from $25 to $110 per pound


There's nothing vegetarian about a sea cucumber, and, though you can cut it up and use it in a salad, it isn't green and doesn't crunch. Also known as sea slug (or less felicitously as sea rat), the creatures are shell-less jelly-like gastropods about the size of a finger. Usually sold in dried form, they are quite expensive; in fact they are considered a luxury ingredient in Chinese restaurants.


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At Yi Lan Halal, a Northern Chinese restaurant in Flushing, sea cucumber is used in a soup with swatches of omelet.


Another name is ginseng of the sea, and the animals are purported to have healthful effects, especially where male potency is concerned. But they are a desirable ingredient on their own, possessing a distinct oceanic flavor that marries well with strong-tasting ingredients like chiles, fish sauce, and garlic. The drawback is that dried specimens must be soaked for days before use. In area Chinatowns, prices run as high as $110 per pound, and several varieties from various parts of the Pacific are sold, each with its subtly distinct properties.

In Manhattan's Chinatown, a store called Chung Chou City 1, Inc. (218-220 Grand Street, 212-274-9338) specializes in sea cucumbers. Nine or 10 types are available, set out on the sidewalk in boxes for your examination. None looks much like a cucumber; but they are said to bear a passing resemblance when alive and crawling across the floor of the ocean.


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The largest and ugliest specimens seem to command the highest prices.


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This place has the city's best collection of dried sea rats. Take a pocketful home and begin soaking.


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