MEET AND EAT THE SEA CUCUMBER
Sea cucumbers are echinoderms, a phylum of invertebrates that includes starfish, sand dollars, and sea urchins. Their bodies feature pentaradial symmetry—five cartilaginous bands that run along their length. Most are between 4 and 11 inches long; some can reach nearly 10 feet fully extended.
BY ANY OTHER NAME
In English they are also known as holothurians. The French call them bêche-demer (“spade of the sea”), the Chinese say haishen (“ginseng of the sea,” alluding to their libidoenhancing application), and in the Pacific Islands they’re called trepang, a term that can also refer to harvesting cukes.
ON THE PLATE
Firm, gelatinous, and mostly flavorless, sea cucumbers are best prepared in dishes where they absorb flavors and provide texture. Unless caught fresh, they can be found at Asian markets whole and dehydrated. Once soaked, they are often sliced and served in soups, braises, or stir-fries all across Asia.
When threatened, many sea cucumbers will violently contract their bodies, ejecting their internal organs into the water to navigate an escape. Thankfully, their absent innards regenerate.