There are two types of shellfish-crustaceans and mollusks. Crustaceans have segmented bodies with crust-like shells. Mollusks have shells encasing their soft bodies. Crustaceans can be identified by their unsymmetrical, elongated bodies and their eyes on stalks. Examples of crustaceans are shrimp, crab and lobster. Mollusks can be identified by their shells which are either closed or partially cover their soft bodies. Oysters, scallops, mussels and clams are examples of mollusks.
Edible crabs include Alaskan King Crab, Snow Crab, Dungeness Crab and Blue Crab. After steaming, grilling, or frying the crab, you crack open the outer shell of the legs and body and eat the meat inside. Crabs are classified in a subgroup of crustaceans called Brachyura and typically live near the shore of oceans around tide pools. All crabs characteristically feature “pinchers” (claws) on their two front legs. Crabs can be cooked in numerous ways, but boiling is perhaps the most common method of preparation.
Another popular edible crustacean, lobsters feature 10 legs and often have pinchers (clawed legs). Varieties include the American Lobster (also called the Maine Lobster), the European Lobster and the Spiny Lobster (which does not have pinchers). Lobsters can be found in the ocean near the coast and can live up to 50 years in the wild. Many people choose to buy just the lobster claws or the tails, which is where the majority of the meat is. However, serving a whole, bright red lobster makes an attractive presentation for a special occasion. To cook whole lobsters, they must be bought alive as they will quickly spoil once they are dead. One of the most common and easiest ways to cook whole lobster is to steam it.
Shrimp live in freshwater and saltwater. Although more than 300 species of shrimp exist, the most common edible shrimp, include gulf shrimp and tiger shrimp. Farm raised shrimp are also increasingly common. Avoid shrimp that smells of anything other than salt water. If there is any hint of the aroma of ammonia, it’s a sign the shrimp are way past there prime. Truly fresh shrimp will have almost translucent flesh. Do not buy shrimp with black spots or rings (unless it’s black tiger shrimp) as this indicates the meat is starting to break down. Also avoid pink meat. Shrimp can be cooked in a variety of ways. They can be boiled, steamed, grilled, sautéed, baked or deep-fried. They can also be cooked with or without the shell and with the vein or deveined.
Oysters are found all over the world’s coasts and oceans. Oyster varieties have different sizes, colors and flavors due to environmental conditions. Because oysters are filter feeders, they are sensitive to environmental pollution. They may pass these pollutants on to humans so eating oysters from reliable habitats is important. Buy oysters in winter months when the cold water in the oyster bed produces peak flavor. Look for undamaged shells that are shut tight. Ask the fishmonger to shuck fresh oysters, if possible. To do it yourself: scrub the outside and shuck them carefully with a sharp knife. Wear a heavy rubber glove to hold the oyster shell to avoid injury. Oysters are served raw, steamed, fried, poached, grilled and baked. Oyster dishes are usually accompanied by lemon juice, chili sauce or horseradish sauce. Serve raw oysters on the half-shell with cocktail sauce and crackers or baked florentine. Saute whole oysters, make oyster chowder or fry them with a light breading.
The many species of clam are found all over the world’s oceans and coasts and range in size from a four-inch sand clams to the four-foot giant clams. Soft shell and hard shell clams live in the open in deep fresh and saltwater and burrowed in the tidal sands or muddy banks of coastal areas. Buy fresh clams in the shell. Store in an open bowl in the refrigerator. Wash the clams under running water to remove any sand before preparing them. Small hardshell clams should be handled in the same manner as mussels. Cook softshell clams before eating them. Wash them thoroughly under running water, as they always contain a lot of sand and mud. Clams are served in chowder and soups and in sauces. Steam, fry, bake and grill clams.
Mussels are fresh and saltwater filter feeder mollusks that are sensitive to environmental pollutants and are considered a species that indicates water quality. Mussels have two shells bound together with a ligament and can close and open it at will. Mussels use the ligament to attach to rocks or underwater piles but some species burrow in sand or mud. Store fresh mussels in an open bowl in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Rinse fresh mussels under slow running water. Discard any heavy mussels (that are filled with mud), any broken shells or any shells that are open. Take a sharp knife and carefully scrape off the “beard” from the edge of each mussels. Mussels are usually served steamed with sauces but they can also be roasted or served in soups and pasta. Steam the mussels 8 to 10 minutes until the shells pop open. Serve with a sauce made from butter, white wine and garlic.
Sea Scallops live on the ocean floor in groups and filter feed on plankton and other small organisms. Unlike most mollusks, sea scallops are relatively fast swimmers, opening and closing their fanned shell quickly to move around. The muscle that holds the two scallop shells together, called the abductor muscle, is the most popular edible part of the scallop. Choose sea scallops or bay scallops, both of which come shucked and ready to prepare. Strip off and discard the little strip of tendon that is attached to each scallop. Buy “dry” scallops, if possible. Refuse scallops that have been soaked in phosphates, which causes them to absorb water and lose flavor. Scallops are served sauteed, seared, baked, grilled, in soups and raw. Make serviche, an appetizer made with fresh bay scallops and marinated in citrus juices. Grill, roast or saute large scallops as an entrée. Bread scallops with a mixture of bread crumbs and basil.
Shellfish — shrimp, crabs, scallops, clams, mussels, oysters or lobster — becomes tough and dry when overcooked. To cook raw shellfish, shucked or in the shell, follow these basic guidelines:
- Raw shrimp turn pink and firm. Depending on the size, it takes from 3 to 5 minutes to boil or steam 1 pound of medium size shrimp in the shell.
- Shucked shellfish (clams, mussels and oysters without shells), become plump and opaque when cooked and the edges of the oysters start to curl. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests: boiling shucked oysters for 3 minutes, frying them in oil at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes or baking them for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F.
- Clams, mussels and oysters in the shell will open when cooked. The FDA suggests steaming oysters for 4 to 9 minutes or boiling them for 3 to 5 minutes after they open.
- Scallops turn milky white or opaque and firm when cooked. Depending on the size, scallops take 3 to 4 minutes to cook thoroughly.
- Boiled lobster turns bright red. Allow 5 to 6 minutes cooking time after the water comes back to a full boil.
|CUT||WEIGHT ORTHICKNESS||HEAT||COOKING TIME(MINUTES PER POUND)|
|Dressed Fish||1 lb.||Medium/Direct||10 to 15|
|2-2-1/2 lbs.||Med/Indirect||20 to 30|
|Fillets or Steaks||1/4 to 1/2 in.||High/Direct||3 to 5|
|1/2 to 1 in.||High/Direct||5 to 10|
|Kabobs||1-in. cubes||Medium/Direct||8 to 12|
|Scallops, Sea||1 lb.||Medium/Direct||5 to 8|
|Shrimp, Medium||1 lb.||Medium/Direct||5 to 8|
Shrimp and Crab Boat Appetizers
- 1 pound peeled and deveined cooked shrimp, chopped
- 6 ounces) lump crabmeat, picked over for shells
- 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 24 Belgian endive leaves (3-4 heads) or small butter lettuce leaves
In a large bowl, combine shrimp, crab and celery. Add mayonnaise and mustard. Toss to coat. To serve, top each leaf with about 2 tablespoons shrimp mixture. Yield: 2 dozen.
Red Pepper Soup with Grilled Shellfish
For the soup:
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1/4 cup minced garlic
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 4 pounds red bell peppers
- 1 cup tomatoes, diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 10 leaves basil, chiffonade
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the seafood:
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced chives
- 8 (U 16/20-count) shrimp
- 8 (U 30-count) scallops
- 8 ounces crabmeat, leg or lump
For the soup:
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a saute pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the olive oil, garlic and onion and saute until translucent.
Roast the peppers on an open flame until charred; place in a plastic bag to sweat; remove skin and seeds. Puree the peppers and add to onions and garlic. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock and water; bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Add basil, thyme, crushed red pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Puree the mixture with a hand immersion blender.
For the seafood:
Combine ingredients (olive oil through the chives) and mix well. Add seafood and marinate for 10 minutes prior to cooking. Cook seafood until done (about 5-6 minutes) on a grill or under the broiler. Use as a topping for the Red Pepper Soup and serve hot with crusty country bread.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted, shelled raw natural pistachios
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 8 large sea scallops, side muscle removed
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add pistachios and cook, stirring often, until nuts are deeply toasted, about 2 minutes. Let cool. Chop pistachios. Place in a small bowl; toss with chives, tarragon and thyme.
Season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat remaining butter and oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add scallops; sear until crusty brown, about 2 minutes per side. Roll scallops in pistachio mixture and serve immediately.
Baked Italian Oysters
- 1 1/2 (1-ounce) slices white bread
- Cooking spray
- 1/3 cup sliced green onions
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 24 oysters on the half shell
- 8 lemon wedges
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Place bread in a food processor and pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs form, (about 3/4 cup).
Heat a medium nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add onions, parsley and garlic; cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in fresh breadcrumbs, Italian breadcrumbs and the next 4 ingredients (Italian breadcrumbs through black pepper).
Place oysters on a jelly roll baking pan. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over oysters.
Bake the oysters for 7 minutes or until the edges of the oysters curl. Serve with lemon wedges.
Mussels Fra Diavlo
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (6 cloves)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups Fra Diavlo Sauce, recipes follow
- 3 pounds medium mussels, scrubbed, de-bearded, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves
Fra Diavolo Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 large cloves garlic, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
- 2 cups Marinara Sauce
- 1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
- Kosher or sea salt
For the sauce:
Heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a 3-quart saucepan slightly over medium heat and saute the garlic and crushed red pepper until the garlic is fragrant and beginning to brown, about 40 seconds. Add the Marinara Sauce, clam juice and salt to taste. Simmer, stirring occasionally over medium-low heat, about 15 minutes.
For the mussels:
Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper and saute until fragrant, stirring, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and Fra Diavlo sauce, increase the heat to high, cover and bring to a boil.
Add the mussels and replace the lid. Cook over high heat 3 minutes. Remove the lid and stir once gently. Continue to cook until the mussels are completely open and firmly cooked, about 4 minutes more.
Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the mussels gently from the pot to a large bowl with a wire mesh skimmer. Return the pot to the heat and increase the heat to high. Boil for a minute or two, until the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon. Pour the sauce over the mussels and serve immediately.
- Two 1 1/2-pound lobsters
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 small dry red chilies, crushed or 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 pints ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb spaghetti
- 12 fresh basil leaves, for garnish, optional
Bring 2 large, tall pots of water to a boil. One will be for the spaghetti, one for the lobsters. It is best if the lobster pot has a lid.
Place the lobsters in the boiling water headfirst and cover tightly with the lid. (If you happen to have lobsters of different weights, put the heaviest lobster in first and wait a minute to add the others.) Boil the lobster for about 7 minutes but no longer than 8 minutes. You want it to be slightly underdone. Transfer the lobsters to a bowl and separate the heads from the tails, reserving them both in the bowl. Remove the lobster legs from the body/head and set aside.
Heat the olive oil and lobster heads in a large 14-inch saute pan. Include any juices that have collected in the bowl. Roast the lobster heads in the oil for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, crack open the claws and remove the meat. Cut open the tails to remove the tail meat. Cut all of the meat into large, 2-inch pieces.
Remove the lobster heads from the pan and discard. Add the chilies and garlic to the olive oil and cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper and saute until they just begin to break down.
Cook the spaghetti in the second pot of boiling water along with 2 tablespoons of salt for 2 minutes less than indicated on the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain the spaghetti.
Add the lobster meat, reserved lobster legs and pasta to the sauce and toss together for about a minute, adding pasta water as needed, top torn basil and serve.
- Seafood of the Week – Seafood Boil (beatcancer2010.wordpress.com)
- Let’s eat! … de la mer … (graytravelblog.wordpress.com)
April 24, 2014 at 6:53 am
The Diavlo sauce sounds good. The most outrageous oysters I’ve had were grilled with foi gras 😉
April 24, 2014 at 4:42 pm
Wow that sounds rich. I would never have thought of that combination of ingredients.
April 24, 2014 at 9:04 am
A very informative post about seafood. I used to be love every shellfish you could imagine until one day…something shifted and I’m not sure what it was. I can not eat it anymore! I keep trying too! The lobster arrabbiata looks and sounds amazing.
April 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm
I think as the years go by foods affect us differently. Enjoy what agrees with you. Thanks for your reflection.
April 24, 2014 at 10:42 am
Those oysters are calling my name!
April 24, 2014 at 4:40 pm
Hey, grab a fork!
April 24, 2014 at 7:45 pm
Love shellfish and molluscs. I did a blog post recently about foraging for mussels in the early 1960s here in Sydney, Australia and it brought back so many memories of the attitudes of the Australians back then who couldn’t understand why we Italians ate “those strange black things”. How times have changed!
April 25, 2014 at 6:11 am
They sure have. Thank you so much for sharing your reflections.
April 26, 2014 at 9:47 am
Wonderful article Jovina. Great tips, in case we forget all the little rules about shellfish! For me the simpler the better, Oreganata, pan seared, of course, linguini w/clams, steamed lobster. I love the “taste of the sea”.
April 26, 2014 at 9:52 am
Thank you Giovannina. I agree seafood is delicious and the simpler the better. Every once in awhile I like a little spice.
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