Seafood in the kitchen is almost like French pastry-it is quite a challenge to many cooks. While creating French pastries is difficult and it takes enormous experience and know how, preparing good seafood is easy. It takes only some basic knowledge and a little experience.
Here is some additional specific information about each of the 4 species of shellfish that you are likely to find at the fish market:
Langostino is a small member of the lobster family caught off the Chilean coast. The tail meat, picked from the shell by hand, cooked and frozen is highly prized. This meat looks like small shrimp and tastes like lobster, but with a more delicate flavor. Its color is a brighter orange than lobster’s. A similar species, called lobsterette, lives off the coast of the Caribbean and south Florida, as well as in southern Europe. Retailers use the two names interchangeably.
Look for these in the freezer, either individually quick frozen or in bulk. They are moderately priced compared to lobster. You’ll find langostino marketed without tail so all is edible meat. For cooking, count on 4 to 5 ounces (110 to 140 g) per person.
Many people consider lobster the king of all shellfish, and some think that it should be listed on the menu in Heaven. The fact is that not everyone is willing to die and go to Heaven for it. In fact, not many are willing to pay the high price for it. A good lobster is indeed a treat, but not all lobster is good, and many discriminating seafood eaters feel it is overrated. Both scarcity and its image as a luxury seafood help keep lobster prices high.
Most think of lobster not only of a luxury food, but also as a very rich food, yet it only has a moderate amount of fat. Having such high esteem, chefs often prepare lobster to sparkle in appearance and flavor, which means loading it up with butter and sauces in the traditional French manner. Those additions are what make lobster rich, not the meat itself.
You can eat every part of a lobster but the shell. You can serve its tail, the white body meat and the claw meat in the shell right from the steamer. Chefs customarily use the tomalley, which is the unique-flavored green liver, and the roe (also called coral) in sauces. Actually, ambitious chefs even take advantage of the beautiful shell coloring by extracting its carotene pigment and using it as natural food coloring.
Like crab meat, fresh lobster does not freeze well (its texture suffers), but after blanching, the frozen and thawed meat retains its quality and texture well.
We have two important lobster species in the kitchen, one is named European and the second, much larger, American (or Maine) lobster. We also have the small spiny lobster, which is not a true lobster but a relative of the crayfish.
A live lobster in the shell yields 25 percent edible meat, same as a dead one. Serving sizes are same as crab: 1 to 1¼ pound (450 to 570 g) in the shell generously serves one person or 4 to 5 ounces (110 to 140 g) of raw lobster meat.
Mussel is a bivalve with meat that varies from pale tan to a deep orange in color. It has a tangy or smoky flavor. Like eel, mussels are much neglected in the U.S. but highly valued in Europe where they are actually farmed. In the right season mussel meat is excellent. During spawning, the flavor is less desirable, the amount of edible meat is less and it could be bitter.
One species, the blue or edible mussel, is by far the most commonly available, but some markets may also offer the greenshell mussel from New Zealand. Like clams, your best bet is to buy mussel live in tightly closed shells.
If you can slide the two shells past one another, the muscle of the mussel has relaxed, signifying that the animal is dead. Skip these and those with shells gaping open. Once the shell opens, clams and mussels dehydrate rapidly. Can’t find mussels for a recipe? You can substitute clams or oysters- different flavor but they behave the same in the sauce pan..
Mussels are now farmed. The cultivated ones have a milder flavor, but tight control over harvesting and distribution attests to their freshness. About 40 to 50 percent of in-the-shell mussels’ total weight is edible meat. Six to 8 shells
serve a person or 4 to 5 ounces (110 to 140 g) of shucked mussel meat.
Octopus is a delicacy in high regard in the Orient. It is less highly regarded in North America, probably for the same reason eels and snakes aren’t often on menus here. None of them look very pretty when alive. (Neither do pigs, you could argue.) Octopus has a delicate, firm, sweet white meat so high in quality that the Japanese even use it in sushi.
Octopus is particularly vulnerable to dry heat, which turns it into something resembling a piece of bread dough you have forgotten on the counter for a day. It does better when simmered for longer periods of time in stew-like preparations. In quick-cooking methods it is best if you tenderize the meat before cooking, especially if it came from a large (over 2½ pounds or 1140 g), older animal.
You can buy octopus in cans, too, but don’t bother sampling it. The flavor is very poor compared to the real thing. Eighty percent of the original dressed weight of octopus is edible meat. You’ll find it in the market dressed, cleaned, eyes and other inedible parts removed, and each weighing about 3 or 4 pounds (1360 to 1820 g). The amount to buy is 4 to 5 ounces (110 to 140 g) of meat per person.
Oysters are not for everyone, but the minority who likes them is unconditionally passionate about them. Other folks consume oysters in large quantities simply because of their reputation as an aphrodisiac. All this aside, oysters are a real delicacy, particularly when the host or hostess serves them au naturel, or raw.
Since uncooked meat of any kind has little or no flavor, traditional condiments and sauces usually accompany raw oysters, in which the texture and mouthfeel give the eating pleasure more than the flavor. Oysters change flavor drastically during spawning season. They accumulate glycogen, a starch which turns the meat milky and the taste starchy and bland. Their meat also contains a higher amount of fat during spawning season.
The old wives’ tale about eating them only in months with an “r” in their names works because those r-less months correspond with the spawning season. If the weather is cooler than normal, though, oysters retain their spawn and the flavor continues bland. It pays to look at both the calendar and the weather pattern before choosing an oyster recipe for the next dinner party.
You can buy oysters fresh in the shell, freshly shucked, or individually quick frozen. If you buy them shucked, make sure the liquid in the package or container is clear-this indicates freshness. You buy oysters in the shell by size-small, medium and large.
Very small and extra large sizes are also available, but these are mostly sold to restaurants. Of the six commercial species, three are common at retail or in restaurants. The highest quality Olympia oysters, from the Northwest, are larger and not quite as flavorful as Pacific (or Japanese) oysters, and finally the Eastern oysters, which you find most readily.
Serve oysters cold (raw or cooked) on the half shell on crushed ice with lemon or dipping sauce in a small bowl on the side. If you are serving them hot, display them on a bed ofhot coarse salt (the salt keeps the tiny creatures hot).
Edible yields vary a great deal, depend ing on the size and thickness of the shells and the size of the oysters. It is anywhere from a mere 5 percent for thick-shelled, small oysters to about 15 percent. If you buy oysters in the shell by the number, count on 6 to 9 per serving or if you buy them shucked, 4 to 5 ounces (110 to 140 g) by weight or 6 to 8 ounces (180 to 240 ml) by liquid volume