Paua live in relatively shallow water (they cannot be taken on scuba, even by commercial quota holders) and prefer to live on round boulders on rocky, weedy coastlines.
Many believe paua is ‘tough’ to chew and not worth the effort. This is not the case. The degree of toughness depends on how the shellfish is treated once removed from the rock.
The best thing you can do is to give the centre of the paua’s foot a decent thump or two with the handle of your dive knife before placing it in your catch
bag. This kills the paua so that, when you take it out of the shell, it will be firm but very tender. Before you do this you need to measure the shellfish to make sure it goes the distance.
Similarly you need to take care in removing paua from the rocks. Any damage to the foot will see it bleed to death – paua are haemophiliacs. To remove the meat from the shell, insert your thumb between the shell and the shellfish at the tail end of the shell. It will take a bit of force to separate the abductor muscle, but it is a technique that becomes easier with practice. Once the paua is popped out of its shell, the gut needs to be removed. By pulling it back towards the abductor muscle, it should come away cleanly in one piece. Removing the teeth from the tail end of the paua finishes the job. Occasionally a little sand and shell will stick to the foot but is easily removed with a nailbrush or pot scourer.
There are a variety of ways paua can be prepared for the table. The simplest is to slice it thinly across the foot, toss it and a sliced onion onto a hotplate to quickly sear, then season with salt and pepper. They are great as fritters and for those who have the inclination there are more difficult dishes to contemplate. But for many, simple is best!