This past Tuesday I got a call from my cousin Sam, who, I always like to note, is extremely tall. “Hey Mol,” he said, “I need to drop something off at your house, can I come by?”

He came to the door and presented me with an abalone. A fresh, live, red abalone he had picked earlier that day up in Mendocino, where such behavior is legal (although closely regulated). He learned to dive for abalone last summer and we had a standing deal: If he caught any, I’d cook them for him. We had several amazing meals thanks to that arrangement.

This time, though, he was headed back down to Monterey. No time to stop in SF for dinner. Just a pop-by to deliver the priceless gift of wild abalone (legally priceless anyway, since it’s illegal to sell).

I’ve learned a lot about abalone in the last year. I ate it for the first time last summer, thanks to Sam. It’s amazing. Like a happy cross between scallops and foie gras–neither of which is my most favorite thing to eat, but when they come together in abalone I’m a huge fan. Then this spring I visited an abalone farm and found out that the big crunch-time every year for abalone growers isn’t Christmas or Fourth of July, but Fathers’ Day. People around the country order up abalone for their dads, who grew up eating it–just picking it off rocks up and down the West Coast from what I can tell–and never get to have it anymore.

And so I saved the abalone to share with my dad. My parents arrived yesterday afternoon for a weekend visit and I surprised them with an abalone snack before we headed to dinner.*

The critter stayed alive in my fridge in a partially-sealed ziploc bag until I cleaned it at noon yesterday. I’d seen Sam clean them, and looked at various things online. I had generally braced myself for grossness and some light gagging. Then I remembered “The Good Cook” series from Time/Life. Sure enough, the Seafood book contained excellent, non-scary directions for cleaning abalone. I expanded them a bit and posted my own How to Clean Abalone step-by-step guide over at Local Foods in case you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one. I also posted a recipe for Pan-Fried Abalone, which is how I like them best and how we ate it last night.

*We headed across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito to eat at Fish. Fabulous, simple, sustainable seafood served on picnic tables in a marina. Ernie loves it, my dashing husband loves it, my dad LUVS it. It is one of my favorite places in the Bay Area–in fact, we often go there for my birthday in one way or another. Even my mom, who is not a big seafood fan and chills easily, happily donned one of the restaurants blankets and sat in the freezing fog while working her way through a giant salad topped with luscious artic char. That summer weather I mentioned the other day? Gone. The people at the table next to ours at Fish. took their food and ate it in their car. And they were from Boston.