The Ardent Epicure

An Ode to the Pleasures of Food

10:25 PM

Food of the Day - Shellfish

Posted by Truffle Shuffle

Fish has been one of the most important sources of sustenance for humans stretching back throughout history.  While I have never been a huge fan of the scales-and-fins variety of fish (tuna, trout, etc.), there is one type of sea-going creature that I have always enjoyed eating: shellfish.  Shellfish is a term that encompasses all edible aquatic creatures that have an exoskeleton.  Some of these creatures are considered to be among the most tasty of all gourmet foods.  (Note: check out our post on langostinos.)
While the term shellfish really relates to any edible form of fresh- or saltwater crustaceans, echinoderms or mollusks, we will discuss a few of the most important and popular here.
Multitudinous varieties of these ugly little crustaceans are eaten all over the world.  From grilled shrimp, to gumbo, to shrimp salad, to shrimp cocktail, this is undoubtedly the most popular of all shellfish.  These can be cooked whole (with the head and tail on), but only the inner flesh is edible.  They can be served whole, with head removed, or with both head and tail removed, depending on preference.  Shrimp can be cooked just about any way, so be creative!  They are wonderful barbecued , and also pan fried. Shrimp can be purchased frozen, but I recommend fresh shrimp whenever it is available.  The size and type come down to personal preference, and the type of dish.

Note: "deveining" a shrimp actually refers to removing the drark digestive tract located on top of the shrimp.  To do this, simply slit the shrimp down the back with a sharp knife, then use the knife to scoop out the dark length of tract.
Grilled Prawns

Similar to shrimp, prawns are a very similar and related animal, and the names are often used synonymously.  Prawns are often served whole, in various preparations, such as grilled prawns, and salt and pepper prawns.
One of the most delicious (and expensive) types of shellfish is the wonderful lobster.  Widely-known and coveted for its superior flavor, there are many types of lobsters served as delicacies all over the world. From steak and lobster to lobster bisque, this crustacean is sure to make a classy impression wherever it goes. Basically resembling a very large shrimp with huge pincer claws, they are best boiled live and served fresh, though they can be prepared many ways, including grilling or baking the lobster.

Lobster is often served as "lobster tail", which is the tail section of the lobster, holding much of the meat; though they can be served whole, or certain parts (such as just the meat) used in dishes. One of the most classic preparations is lobster tail with drawn butter.
However you cook it, this is one shellfish you don't want to miss.  Try it on a special occasion!

Clams are a type of mollusc that includes many varieties of differing sizes.  Clams can be steamed and served whole (the steaming process will serve to both open the shell and cook the meat) or the meat can be served separately.  One of the most famous preparations of this animal is clam chowder, but fried clams, clam pasta, clam sauce, and many other dishes can be prepared from this succulent shellfish.
Live Clam

Note: check out my simple recipe for a clam pasta I will post later on.
Cooked Clams with Shell
Similar in many ways to the clam, this mollusc is usually served in the form of a piece of muscle from inside the shell.  This is what is usually known as a scallop, and can vary in size, and is white-colored and fleshy.  It has a mild but tasty flavor, and can be fried, baked, or sautéed (usually in butter).  These can be purchased fresh or frozen.
Live Scallop

Try  substituting scallops for shrimp in many pasta dishes.
Cooked Scallop
Sea Urchin
Although not widely popular in comparison to shrimp or clams, this echinoderm is often eaten in Japan, and can be considered a delicacy in many countries.  It is typically used in a raw preparation, but can also be found cooked in some dishes.
Sea Urchin

Perhaps more popular then the fish itself, the roe (eggs) of the sea urchin are considered a delicacy as well.
Sea Urchin Roe

Very popular in many parts of Europe, these molluscs are usually served in their pretty shells, steamed open in a fashion similar to that of clams.

It can be served in shell as a main course, or is often mixed with other types of fish in seafood dishes, such as frutti di mare from Italy. Mussels are also often cooked in butter, wine and herbs, in moules marinieres.
Cooked Mussels with Shell

Oysters are another type of mollucs, of which there are various types.  Like mussels, oysters are often served in their shells, though the shells are arguably less attractive than the shiny black shells of the mussel.

Oysters can be cooked in their shells, and served whole, or added to many dishes, but they are often served raw, and "slurped" out of their shells, to be swallowed by the consumer whole.  Again, these are often cooked alive, and the shell will open during cooking.
Oysters with Shell

This interesting crustacean encompasses a wide variety of shellfish with claws and legs.  They can range from fairly small to quite large in size, and vary in color and type greatly.  The meat of the crab is used in many dishes, such as crab salad or crab bisque, or the crab may be served with its shell in whole, or in parts (such as crab legs).  Crab cakes are a very popular preparation involving crab meat, where the crab is mixed with bread crumbs and other products, and formed into cakes that are baked or fried.
Crab (he looks a bit crabby, doesn't he?)

Another interesting form of crab is the soft-shell crab.  These are crabs of certain varieties (including the popular blue crab) that are eating shortly after the molting process is complete, resulting in a "new," soft shell that can be cooked and eaten whole.  In this way, the shell becomes edible, and does not need to be discarded.
Snow Crab Legs

This crustacean, also called crawfish or crawdad in some locations, is much like a small lobster, similar in appearance its larger cousin.  These are wildly popular in Louisiana , but also used in various preparations world-wide.  They can be served whole, or used in soups, étouffée (similar to gumbo, served over rice), and other dishes.

Crayfish are very commonly used as bait for fishing.
Crawfish Boil

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