A Guide to Buying Shellfish and Crustaceans

I almost always buy my shrimp frozen.  Shrimp go bad very quickly, and unless you live near shrimping boats, you should buy yours frozen too.  I like to buy all of my shrimp with their shells still on.  The main reason for this is I like to make stock with my shells, but the shells also protect the flesh from the freezing process and help maintain the texture.  Shell on shrimp is always cheaper than peeled d shrimp, as less work is done by the packer

Tips for Buying Clams, Mussels, and Oysters

Clams, Mussels, and Oysters are delicious shellfish but can potentially make you very sick if not handled properly. Once they die, they release very harmful bacteria, and must be eaten or cooked while still alive (lobster and crawfish do too).  You can tell if mussels and clams are still alive by their shell.  If the shells are open and will not close up, they are dead.  If the shell is slightly open, gently tap it on the counter,  If it closes back up, it is fine, but if it stays open, it needs to be discarded.  Clams, mussels and oysters prefer very cold temperatures once plucked from the water.  They will stay fresh on ice for several days, but if left out at room temperature, they will die in just a matter of minutes.  You must always store oysters, mussels and clams on ice, changing the ice every day.  The easiest way to keep them in your refrigerator is to store them in a metal container with ice bags on top.  Fill gallon ziplock bags with ice, and cover them with the bag.  Once the ice is melted, pour the water out and refill with ice.

Clams are often sold in 3-5 pound red mesh bags, mussels in 3-5 pound purple mesh bags, and oysters are usually sold individually.  If buying a bag, inspect it carefully.    If the shells are all tightly closed, you can assume the bag is pretty fresh.  If the clams or mussels have opened, buy a different bag.  If you are going to be transporting these, you need to be careful.   If it is really hot outside, you need to either take a cooler with ice or have your fishmonger pack them in ice for you.  Never store clams, mussels or oysters – or any live seafood for that matter-in plastic bags.  The shellfish will literally suffocate and die in a plastic bag.

If you have ever eaten fresh clams, you have probably bit down on a nasty little piece of grit.  Clams feed by filtering sand and ocean water, and occasionally they will hang on to some of the grit.  Some chefs swear by rinsing the clams, but it won’t always work, as the grit is often inside the clam.  If you want to get rid of any chance of grit, simply soak the clams in an ice water bath with 2-3 tablespoons of cornmeal.  The cornmeal will trick the clams into thinking they are feeding, and the cornmeal will filter out any grit. They only take 30-60 seconds to cook, and once they pop open, they are done.  Take them out as soon as they are cooked, as overcooking makes them rubbery.

Buying Live Seafood

When buying LIVE seafood, look for seafood that is aLIVE.  If the crabs or lobsters don’t look very lively, they aren’t going to be very good.  If they are squirming around, they should be pretty fresh.  Dead Lobsters, crabs, and crawfish release harmful bacteria, and shouldn’t be eaten.  Any dead shellfish need to be removed from the group, or this bacteria will spread like the Bubonic Plague through Europe.

Do Lobsters Scream When You Put Them in Boiling Water

There is a myth surrounding lobster, that when you put them in boiling water they scream.  This is absurd, the lobster live underwater, have no vocal cords and if they did, they wouldn’t be audible to humans.  The noise they make is actually pressurized air and steam being released from the shells.

What Is the Most Humane Way to Kill Lobsters or Blue Crabs

People often ask what is the most humane way to cook a lobster or blue crab.  This is a very important question because we need to realize these creatures gave their lives for our meal.  Treating food with respect is the best way to honour these creatures.  Some people think they should be dropped into boiling water, but the truth is, this won’t kill them immediately.

The most humane way to kill a live lobster or blue crab is to place the tip of your knife at a 45-degree angle right between their eyes.  Push down straight through to the cutting board with the tip of the knife, and in a rocking motion, push down until the heel of the blade touches the cutting board killing the crustacean immediately.

Buying Fresh Seafood Vs Frozen Seafood

Fresh isn’t necessarily better.  In some instances, frozen fish is actually fresher than fresh fish.  Look for food that is flash frozen immediately after processing or fish that is individually vacuum sealed for freshness. If the seafood has to travel a long distance to get on your plate (say Salmon in Ohio or Snow Crab in Texas), flash frozen will most often be your best bet. Flash frozen is exactly what it sounds like.  The fish are frozen at a very cold temperature, freezing them very rapidly.  This will prevent ice crystals from forming, which will damage the texture of the cooked product.  Once thawed, use immediately.  Under no circumstances should you refreeze previously frozen and thawed seafood, as this develops big ice crystals.

Be careful of frozen seafood in the supermarket that is on styrofoam and wrapped in the simple plastic wrap.  This type of frozen fish will often not be flash frozen and will typically have freezer burn.

How to Store Fresh Seafood Once Purchased

Fresh seafood spoils quickly.  The easiest way to keep your seafood fresh is to store it on ice (no doubt if you have been to a fish market you have seen fish stored in/on ice).  In the county where I work, the health department actually requires fresh seafood to be stored at 34 degrees or below (vs 40 degrees or below for all other cold items).  In my restaurant, this isn’t an issue, we already store our fish in ice inside the refrigerator to preserve freshness.  We keep our seafood in metal containers with Ziploc bags of ice on top.  At the beginning and end of every shift, we change the pans and change the ice bags.  At home, store the seafood in a glass or metal container with the same Ziploc bags and change them as the ice melts.  Never store Live seafood (lobsters, clams, mussels, crawfish etc) in airtight containers.  Cook the seafood before it starts to stink up your fridge.  If you have bought frozen seafood, force thaw (under cold running water) immediately prior to cooking.

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