Whether you are having a lobster boil, an under-the-sea-themed party, or are simply craving a bit of seafood, you can never go wrong with shellfish.
Growing up, my mom was allergic to shellfish (an affliction that, unfortunately, a large number of the population is afflicted with). So as you can imagine, my siblings and I were deprived of this great delicacy.
It wouldn’t be until I traveled to the great European continent that I had my first taste of the ocean.
And I have to admit, at first, the giant pot of rice, octopus, squid and shrimp (this is known as “paella” in Spain) was a little daunting.
But to my great surprise, after one bite of this foreign dish, I was hooked.
The great thing about shellfish is its diverse palette. With so many options, including crab, lobster, mussels and clams, there’s really something for everyone.
You may not know this, but all shellfish fall into two main categories: crustacean, which includes fish such as lobster and crawfish, and mollusks, which include fish such as squid, clams and yes, even snails.
This wide array of shellfish pairs wonderfully with a variety of dishes and is not only super tasty but is also a great source of protein and nutrients.
In fact, regularly eating shellfish is known to be associated with boosting your immunity, aiding in weight loss, and promoting brain and heart health.
I mean, it doesn’t get better than that.
If we’ve caught your attention and you’re feeling ready to expand your knowledge of this fascinating world, make sure to check out the following sections, where we explore everything you need to know about 10 different types of shellfish.
Get ready because we’re about to dive deep (hehe).
Let’s be honest, when it comes to what the ocean has to offer, crab meat never disappoints. Whether it’s the slight touch of sweetness or the irresistibly meaty texture, crab is a must-have for any seafood extravaganza.
Crab can be found in both fresh and saltwater, but it is most commonly fished in the latter.
Because of how affordable it is, crab is also a fan favorite amongst the shellfish-eating demographic (the King crab variant is especially coveted for its meaty claws and legs) and is frequently chosen over lobster.
In addition, crab meat is highly efficient to make and only requires a short period of time to cook. Not to mention it can be prepared in a variety of ways, including grilled, boiled, roasted and steamed.
And best of all, crab meat pairs wonderfully with a wide variety of foods, including other seafood and fish, pasta, rice and yes, even vegetables! Just add a buttery and creamy sauce and you’re good to go!
Crab is most commonly found in dishes such as sushi, crab cakes, crab dips, bisque (found in France) and, if you head to the Southern States, gumbo.
When it comes to the shellfish world, lobsters are definitely at the top of the list in terms of prestige.
Lobsters have a longer lifespan which allows them to mature and grow into significantly larger sizes.
And what does larger equate to? That’s right, more of that delicious, juicy meat!
Most of the meat of a lobster can be found in the legs, claws and tails.
In terms of flavor, lobster is sweeter and less “fishy” than crab and combines well with numerous other dishes, including lobster rolls, lobster bisque and lobster salad.
However, if you’re looking for something straightforward, lobster is also delightful when simply paired with a butter or garlic sauce.
So what are you waiting for? Get boiling!
Speaking of the South, when you’re in the mood for a little southern cuisine, a classic crawfish dish will never disappoint.
If you’ve never had crawfish before, it is essentially a freshwater fish that is similar in flavor to crab and shrimp. However, in terms of size, it is a lot smaller and typically ranges from 3-6 inches in length.
The taste can be described as sweet and slightly salty, with a firm texture and pairs wonderfully with a variety of other side dishes, including potatoes, salad and corn on the cob.
And while a classic crawfish boil is native to the South, many other cultures around the world also enjoy this dish, including Australia, France and Scandinavia.
It’s important to remember that in order to avoid food poisoning, you can only consume a small portion of the crawfish body (avoid consuming the claws).
For the most flavor, try eating the crawfish by sucking the head (it sounds weird, but the taste is incomparable!).
Shrimp is a classic ocean-inspired dish that never disappoints. Whether you’re serving it as an appetizer with your favorite shrimp cocktail sauce or are incorporating it into a main dish such as pasta, shrimp will always be a crowd-pleaser.
Like crab and lobster, shrimp have 10 legs and a shell. But unlike the former two shellfish, shrimp do not crawl on the sea floor but rather swim in open coastal waters (thought you might enjoy that visual).
Shrimp is popular all across North America and is most abundant in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the coastal waters of Virginia.
Because of its more mild fish flavor, shrimp is a great segway for first-time shellfish eaters.
We highly recommend trying shrimp scampi (if you’re unsure, the photo below will surely convince you).
When it comes to diets, oysters are definitely the best option as they are low in calories and high in nutrients. In addition to being rich in calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin B12, oysters are also a high source of protein.
So what exactly are oysters?
Oysters are a delicacy that have been consumed by the human race since the time of the Romans (likely even before that).
Essentially, they are small pieces of meat, enclosed around two hard shells. They are relatively small in size and are found in salt and brackish waters, which causes them to contain a mild ocean flavor.
Because they are not strong in taste, oysters are typically accompanied by a sauce such as lemon.
They are also often eaten with other foods, such as potatoes and corn.
In contrast to oysters, clams are significantly more flavorful and sweeter. In fact, clams are known to have the sweetest palette of all the shellfish. There’s a reason it is so widely consumed across the globe.
In Canada and the US, the most popular clam species include hard-shell, soft-shell and ocean quahog.
Although clams can be eaten raw or prepared in a variety of ways, such as baked, fried or boiled, it is best served steamed and in the shell.
To complement this shellfish, clams are often made in dishes such as clam chowder and clam dip.
As with many of the other types of shellfish, clams can also be enjoyed simply with a little olive oil or butter.
If you’re anything like me, you may have also been horrified at the thought of consuming this scary and luminous sea giant.
Thanks to the media, the octopus has been represented in pop culture as an ocean villain (if you’ve seen a video of an octopus in the deep, dark depths of the sea, this is understandable).
Regardless of its reputation, when it comes to cuisine, octopus is actually a great delicacy enjoyed by many cultures across the world, including the US, Japan, Spain, Tunisia and Greece.
For an optimal tasting experience, try adding garlic, chili or ginger to your octopus dish.
If you’re really feeling brave, you can even try the tentacles raw.
We couldn’t mention octopus without talking about its famous cousin, the squid.
When cooked correctly, squid is slightly chewy, slightly sweet and will melt in your mouth. Like octopi, it can also be eaten raw or cooked and is a wonderful addition to a variety of seafood dishes.
Ever tried calamari? Well, squid is the star of this deep-fried delight (and makes for a great appetizer at any dinner party).
Wanting to cook this shellfish up as a main dish? Try incorporating it into your favorite pasta or rice!
Because, not only is squid irresistibly tasty, it’s also full of nutritional value, including being high in vitamin B-12, potassium, iron, phosphorus and copper.
If you’re from the western hemisphere and love seafood, you’ve likely come across this shellfish paired with white wine, but this isn’t the only way to enjoy this dish.
The mildly sweet and salty flavors of mussels provide this shellfish with the best of both worlds. This makes it a great addition to numerous meals, such as pasta and stews that incorporate flavors such as garlic and chili.
In terms of actually cooking mussels, the best way to prepare them is by steaming them until the shell has just slightly opened.
Make sure not to cook them for too long, as this will cause them to be tough!
For the sake of keeping things civilized, from now on, let’s refer to snails by their more prestigious and refined alter ego, “escargot” (which is essentially snails seasoned and cooked up).
As the name indicates, escargot is a great delicacy most commonly eaten in France.
Although many people are put off by the idea of eating escargot, it is not only surprisingly tasty, but it is also full of health benefits.
When cooked properly, escargot is lightly seared on the outside, with tender and juicy meat on the inside.
Although snails (cue response similar to that of when Voldemort’s name is spoken) are most often eaten alone, in countries such as Greece and Italy, this land shellfish is commonly consumed in sauces and pasta.
In terms of its health benefits, escargot is an excellent source of protein, iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. It is also low in fat content.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Prawns And Scallops Also Considered Shellfish?
Yes! Prawns are a cross between lobster and shrimp but, in terms of size, resemble the latter. They are slightly sweet and slightly salty and go wonderfully in stews and soups. They also pair well with spices such as garlic and ginger.
Because scallops are typically already served with the shell removed, many people aren’t aware that they also fall into the shellfish family.
Scallops are tender and super flavorful, which is why they are a seafood favorite.
How Do You Buy The Best Shellfish?
Purchasing the best shellfish possible is essential for not only ensuring the most optimal flavor, but also so that you can extend the shelf life for as long as possible.
Whether you’re at the grocery store or your local fish market, here are the indicators you should look out for:
- Look that the shellfish is clean and free from any dirt or mud.
- When on display, check that they are being stored in ice (this is important for freshness).
- If they have a shell, look at the shells and make sure they are shut.
- Smell the shellfish and check that they smell fresh like the ocean (if they are a saltwater species).
What Is The Healthiest Shellfish?
All shellfish are great sources of protein and low in fat content. Not only this, but the fat content they do contain is healthy- meaning they are low in saturated fats and high in omega-3s.
In addition, shellfish are high in vitamin B, iron, zinc and copper.
Copper is most predominant in lobsters and oysters and is associated with collagen and hemoglobin production.
Oysters also have the highest zinc content of any food. Zinc is known to play an important role in immune function and wound healing.
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