Anyone who's ever sat down to a plate of freshly prepared shellfish
would agree that it's probably as close as you can get to gourmet
heaven. Read more about the basics of preparing shellfish and then scroll down for 5 great shellfish recipes.
Strictly speaking, crustaceans (lobster, crayfish, crabs, prawns, langoustines and shrimps), (mussels and oysters) and cephalopods (calamari
or squid, octopuses and cuttlefish) are all classified as shellfish.
But here we will focus on the basics of crustaceans.
Crayfish and lobster
Crayfish, also known as rock lobster, are caught right around our coastline,
although those caught on the West Coast are generally larger than their
East Coast counterparts. They all have rough, prickly, reddish-brown,
hard bodies with sweet, firm, white flesh. The hard shells become
bright red, pink or orange-striped when cooked.
European and American Lobster
have a set of heavy claws ending in pincers, with a smoother shell.
Mottled, greeny-blue with brown colouring, they turn red when cooked.
Most of the meat is in the claws, which must be cracked with a hammer
before you can get at it. Langoustines or Dublin Bay prawns are
expensive and don't have much flesh. They look like slim, small
lobsters with lighter claws and paler shells.
How to cook crayfish
Shellfish should be bought live, but if this isn't possible, always
check your dead crayfish for freshness by flexing the tail backwards.
If fresh, it will spring back sharply. Plunge you live crayfish
straight into salted, boiling water and simmer for five minutes for the
first 500g and three minutes for each additional 500g. You can also put
the crayfish into a pan, drizzle with olive oil and roast in a hot oven
until the shell turns red. A kilogram of crayfish will take about 15
minutes then it's done.
Once cooked, with a large, sharp knife, cut the lobster in half
lengthwise and pull out and discard the black vein that runs down the
centre of the tail, as well as the small sand sack at the base of the
head. The flesh is found in the tail, legs and joints and the tomalley,
the creamy grey-green liver, is considered a delicacy. Simply remove
the white meat from the shell. Pull out the tail meat. Twist off the
claws, then break the shell to extract the claw meat.
from five to 18 cm in length and range in colour from transparent pink,
to the deep bluey-black of the Tiger prawn. Most turn pink or red when
cooked and are low in fat and cholesterol. Prawns should be frozen
solid when purchased, be they cooked and frozen or frozen raw (green).
It's a good idea to defrost prawns up to three hours before cooking to
enhance the flavour. Devein them while they're still frozen by first
running a sharp knife along the back to remove the black intestinal
tract. The shell can then easily be removed, leaving the tail attached
to the body. It's up to you if you want to remove the head.
How to cook prawns
cooking prawns, be sure to rinse and drain them well before you cook
them, and dry them using paper towel. Simply season with salt and
pepper, lemon juice or soy sauce and leave to absorb the flavours for
10 to 15 minutes. Then toss your raw prawns into boiling, salted water,
adding a bay leaf, peppercorns, mustard seeds, dried chilli and fresh
ginger, or sliced lemon and onion. Remove when they rise to the
surface. You can also cook them in a slightly oiled hot pan for a few
minutes until still glassy in the centre, or grill them, brushed with
garlicky lemon butter.
Shrimp and crab
There are numerous varieties of shrimps,
among them brown, white, pink, royal red, brine, and rock shrimp.
Shrimps are available shelled or unshelled, raw (green) or cooked, and
fresh or frozen. Raw shrimp should smell of the sea with no hint of
ammonia. Cooked, shelled shrimp should look plump and succulent. Before
storing fresh, uncooked shrimp, rinse them under cold, running water
and drain thoroughly. You don't have to devein small or medium-sized
shrimp, except for cosmetic purposes. But because the intestinal vein
of larger shrimp contains grit, it should be removed. Shrimps are ideal
for cocktail snacks, for use in paella or Asian dishes or simply
boiled, grilled or fried.
Crabs are sought after for their sweet, succulent meat and becoming more available in
South Africa, although rarely fresh. If you do buy fresh crab, remove
the top shell, lungs and intestines, break away the mouth and bottom
side apron, break the claws off and keep them on ice until you're ready
to cook. Whole crabs and crabmeat can be cooked in a variety of ways
including frying, boiling, steaming (about for the same length of time
as for crayfish) or in soups, gumbos or crab cakes.
5 shellfish recipes
1. Crayfish curry
2. Lobster thermidor
3. Vietnamese rolls
4. Prawn and nut stuffed calamari
5. Seafood parcels on herb mayonnaise