There is a long European history of collecting and enjoying shellfish, in fact far more so in the past than today. Oysters, for example, were an everyday food until the early 20th century, they were widely enjoyed by people in all walks of society until supply problems saw them fall rapidly out of favour. Today though, a huge variety of great quality shellfish are readily available, be they delicious crustaceans such as crab, lobster and langoustine; bivalves such as mussels, oysters and scallops, or gastropods (members of the snail family, with one shell) such as whelks. Whether farmed or harvested from the wild, shellfish are a worthy addition to any dining occasion. Let’s take a look at a few of the more commonly available species:
You can’t beat the wow factor when serving a whole cooked lobster to the table. Native lobsters from the UK are often considered the best, but are usually all sold locally where they are landed, or exported.
Also often known as Dublin Bay prawns, Nephrops and Norwegian lobster, Whilst traditionally the tails have been used to make breaded scampi, there are more delicious uses for this superb species. They are fantastic roasted in the oven and served whole with lemon and mayonnaise, or split in half, coated in butter and herbs and grilled. The tail meat has a succulent sweet taste and a prawn-like texture.
The brown edible crab is native to the UK. Males contain more white meat than the female, and are generally preferred by chefs and discerning diners. Other crab species which you may be able to find for sale include Alaskan king crab, spider crab, velvet crab and snow crab.
The UK’s native mussel is widely cultivated in many coastal water locations around the UK – the mussels grown on ropes suspended in the water and that don’t touch the seabed. The myth about only eating mussels ‘when there is an ‘R’ in the month’ is incorrect – although mussels spawn in spring and are not at their best at this time since the meat content is lower. Rope grown mussels are available year round, although not at their best in the summer months. Mussels are a great value shellfish that make a fine starter, lunch or main course. Classic recipes such as moules marinières and moules Provençale are rightly popular - and paella wouldn’t be the same without them! Frozen mussels are of good quality and often include the New Zealand greenlip mussel which possesses a sweeter taste. Greenlip mussels are usually much bigger than UK native mussels making them great for topping with other ingredients – such as herbed breadcrumbs – and grilling.
These attractive fan-shaped shells contain a firm, translucent off-white meat wrapped with a bright orange roe or coral which is also edible but with a different taste and texture. While many scallops are caught using dredging methods, there is also a strong UK market for premium quality diver-caught scallops. A superb starter in or out of the shell, scallop meat has a sweet, delicate flavour, and requires minimal cooking – the simpler the better; steamed, pan-fried or grilled.
There are three main oyster varieties available in the UK: native, Pacific (or rock) oysters and Portuguese oysters. The native oyster is available from September to April and considered the best, but takes twice as long to grow as other varieties. Faster growing Pacific oysters are available year round. All oysters should feel heavy for their size and be kept with the round ‘cupped’ part of the shell facing downwards to retain moisture. Despite their modern image as a luxury food, oysters used to be a cheap ‘working class’ dish – traditionally used in British beef and oyster pie. Oysters are now commonly enjoyed raw, perhaps with a dash of lemon juice and a sprinkling of pepper, though stronger tasting salsa-type toppings are also often used. Oysters can also be steamed open like mussels, topped then grilled or baked, or the meat can be removed, coated in a light tempura batter and deep-fried.
There are a number of varieties of clam available in the UK; all are round and stone-like in appearance, except the elongated and slender razor clam , so called because it resembles a cutthroat razor in shape. Amande, venus and razor clams are the most common varieties, although palourdes clams (are often considered the finest clams and command a much higher price. Once washed and scrubbed, clams are used in classic dishes such as Linguine alle Vongole and New England Clam Chowder. Clams can also be served raw like oysters.
Why not celebrate the coming summer with some sensational shellfish! For further shellfish recipe ideas visit https://www.fishisthedish.co.uk/recipes