The Ultimate Guide to Buying and Preparing Shellfish
The world is your oyster—or clam, scallop, mussel, crab, or shrimp. This tutorial makes buying and preparing shellfish at home a (sea) breeze. Whether you’ve been shucking oysters all your life or you’ve never touched a shell, this guide will come in handy as you serve seafood this summer.
Mussels are filter feeders, so they may have sand inside their shells. But they will do most of the cleaning work for you. Just soak them in a bowl of cold, salted water with a pinch of flour for at least 20 minutes before cooking. They will open, filter in the flour, expel the sand, then close again. (Thanks, guys!)
The clump of brown threads sticking out between the shells is what the mussel uses to anchor itself to a rock. Right before cooking, wrap the beard around your index finger and tug back and forth to pull it out.
Give it a try: Easy Chorizo, Chicken, and Shellfish Paella
Cooking shrimp with the shells on locks in their sweet flavor—great if you’re serving them simply. (To devein without removing the shell, hook the tine of a fork over the vein at the head end and carefully pull it out.) Diners can peel as they eat.
A word about prawns (wait, aren’t they just shrimp?) Well, no. Prawns and shrimp have slight anatomical differences, and larger prawns tend to mimic lobster in taste. But they can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Give it a try: Lemon-Chile Broiled Shrimp
These tender bites have the sweetness of lobster with the ease of shrimp. (Scallops cook in minutes.) Fresh scallops shine when you keep it simple: Brown butter or a bright tomato sauce is all you need. Plan on serving each person four or five.
Scallops usually come cleaned, but you’ll sometimes find a small, tough flap attached to one side, where the scallop was attached to its shell. Pinch it and tear it off before cooking.
Give it a try: Scallop and Chive Dumplings in Brown Butter
Clams and Lobster
The shape of a clamshell is perfect for scooping and slurping up sauce. Serve clams with a mixture of garlic, butter, and wine or this rich tomato broth. Refer to our comprehensive clam chart for everything you need to know about the different types of clams (there’s a lot!).
Ready to take on the lobster? Steaming, not boiling, yields the most tender, flavorful meat. It’s also more forgiving because there is less risk of overcooking. Here’s how: Fill your largest pot with 2 inches of heavily salted water. Add a steaming rack, then the live lobsters. Steam, covered, until the shells are bright red, 8 to 10 minutes per pound. Serve warm with melted butter and lemon.
Give it a try: Seafood Bake With Feta
Oysters and Octopus
When shucking and serving, don’t spill the briny liquid inside the shell. It’s precious! It mingles with the mignonette and gives a clean, oceany finish. To serve them on the half shell, you’ll need an oyster knife and a dish towel. Then, follow these three simple steps, and serve on a bed of crushed ice.
Give it a try: Oysters With Shallot-Lime Mignonette
Leave trimming and tenderizing a whole one to the pros. (It’s a beast, and octopus can be rubbery when not cooked properly.) Instead, try canned octopus. It’s delicious—trust us. Just drizzle it with fresh lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and chopped parsley. Serve to guests at room temperature.
Most shellfish will keep on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for two days. Store the seafood in a bowl, covered with a damp cloth—or freeze for up to 3 months. Don’t freeze unshucked mussels, clams, or oysters; they should be alive when cooked.
Give it a try: Crab Toasts With Lemon Mayo