Home Recipe ContentPearl Meat San Chow Boi

Pearl Meat San Chow Boi

Published : June 19, 2016


Words and Recipe:  Simon Owen

I wouldn't call this recipe a winter dish, but when pearl shell meat turns up, thoughts of seasonality must be cast aside.

It's not quite worth its weight in gold on the scale of saffron and truffles (more on this topic very soon), but if you factor in the virtual impossibility of obtaining it via any conventional means, it probably tops out the 'exotic scale' in the seafood family relegating abalone and snow crab.  What is available ends up in the odd restaurant and mostly overseas.

Try to imagine a cross between a scallop and clam meat.  A little firmer than scallops, less sinewy than muscles or clams, and with a lovely delicate mollusc flavour.  

It is, of course, the shell meat from the pearl oyster, and nothing like the oysters that we usually consume happily.

In fact you need to have a friend that owns, or runs, a pearl farm which these days makes it a fairly narrow window of opportunity given the rather parlous state of the local pearling industry.  Thankfully l, or we, have such a friend and once or twice a year, the never ending demands of tending this business in some remote marine location, the harvest of meat from dead shells and the chance to catch up for dinner coincide .... deliciously.

Traditionally, the pearl meat should be treated with the utmost respect and the minimum of intervention.  Flash fried (30 seconds max) having had a light marinade, often garlic and chilli.  My friend favours a little fresh ginger and mirin and, with a small splash of sesame oil I would go with him.

Faced with an absolute embarrassment of meat we had ample chance to do several batches of both, which are passed around quickly to eat straight out of the pan.

Looking for a different, and slightly more substantial, way to use our riches before tucking into Sacha's Croatian Fish Soup (which is a winter dish and soon to be seen here) I tried an adaption of a lovely South East Asian green papaya salad.

There are some alternatives offered which work very nicely, including if pearl meat just isn't available which it probably won't be.

Pearl Meat San Chow Boi


Half a green papaya per 250 gms shell meat
250 gms shell meat, picked crab or 'scallop bits' which are much cheaper than the whole things and just fine for this
Splash of sesame oil and light soy
1 large handful of unsalted roasted peanuts
1 large handful of Thai basil, or mint if not available.  I wouldn't use European basil for this
1 large handful of coriander, picked and chopped but I would be quite robust with my picking as bits of chopped stem will add both flavour and texture
A light sprinkling of roasted shallots (available in plastic jar or packet from Asian shops and the occasional decent grocer).
Baby cos/gem lettuce leaves or fresh betel leaves if you can find them


1 medium garlic clove
2 small green chillies (ie fairly spicy, but adjusted to taste)
Juice of 2 largish limes, maybe 3 but depending on taste, size and juiciness of limes
1 tbsp of fish sauce
2 tbsp of palm sugar, preferably the lighter variety.

Prep and cook.

  1. If you have pearl shell meat, slice each piece in half on the diagonal. If using either shell meat of scallop pieces, very lightly marinade in the sesame oil and soy.
  2. Wash and pick you herbs, but don't chop until just before combining.
  3. Wash and prep your lettuce/betal leaves and place on serving platter.
  4. Prepare your dressing (preferably) in a mortar and pestle by crushing the galic, palm sugar and chillies. Best to roughly chop these befriend you start the pounding and grinding.  Add the fish sauce and the lime juice to a nice paste and adjust as best you can to achieve your version of the classic 'salt/sweet/spicy/sour' South East Asian taste.
  5. All of this can be done well before if that is helpful.
  6. The green papaya needs to be shredded/julienned and this is often best done on a mandolin.  If, like some of us, you have developed a small phobia after minor amputations involving a mandolin, then a grater, other food processor or just good knife skills will suffice.
  7. If using pearl meat or scallops flash fry for about 30 seconds in a medium hot pan.
  8. Combine all of the dry ingredients and add half of the dressing.  Toss gently (I always think clean hands work best for this) and taste.  Add a little more dressing as required.
  9. Serve either in your lettuce/betel leaves or separately and allow diners to serve themselves.

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