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The langostino is a small crustacean that packs a big taste. A member of the lobster family, it yields a tasty morsel of tail meat that offers an affordable alternative to higher-priced shellfish like lobster and shrimp.

Langostinos are caught in the cold waters off the coast of Chile during a season that runs from May to September. The catch is delivered live to shoreside processing plants where the langostinos are cooked and then handpicked to removed the tail meat. Frozen before shipping, they need only be thawed and warmed up if desired.

As a result, they're a truly convenient seafood, perfect for pastas, salads and seafood stews.

Look for langostinos in the freezer case where they're sold in packages of tail meat. They're either frozen individually (IQF for individually quick frozen), allowing you to thaw only as many as you need, or sealed in bulk in vacuum-packed bags. Either way, you can use the same guides for buying them that you would for cooked peeled shrimp. The meats should be whitish-pink, with no signs of drying or freezer burn.

Upon thawing, langostinos, like cooked shrimp, will quickly show the care taken during processing. The meats should be moist and have a firm texture. If they feel slimy or have any off-odors, they should be discarded.

In the wild, langostinos are the smallest of lobsters. With their small bodies (4-5 inches) and oversized claws, they look like a cross between a crawfish and a traditional American lobster. The tail meat accounts for around 10% of the animal and although there are no size grades, there will typically be anywhere from 100 to 200 meats per pound.

Langostinos are found almost exclusively off the coast of Chile.

They're caught by trawling, usually at depths of 125-200 meters. The entire harvest is less than 9 million pounds, yielding roughly 1 million pounds of meat.

Occasionally the term langostino is confused with other small, so-called "lobsterettes". Langoustine, for example, is what the French call Norway lobster, a similar-looking, but only distantly related species found in European waters. Likewise, the terms langouste and langosta are simply the French and Spanish words, respectively, for spiny lobster, and shouldn't be confused with the real langostino.

Compared to other crustaceans, langostinos are wonderfully affordable, often selling for less than many medium-sized shrimp and as little as half the price of cooked lobster meat. Because the bulk of the catch is frozen, there are few ups and downs in the supply, making them available year-round.

Like the best crustaceans, langostinos have a firm texture and a mild, slightly sweet flavor. Put another way, they offer the flavor of lobster in shrimp-sized portions. In fact, if you treat them the same way you treat cooked shrimp or lobster meat, you can't go wrong.

The bottom line with langostinos is their wonderful convenience.

Because they're already cooked, the only risk is in overcooking them which will make them dry and rubbery. Otherwise, you can simply thaw them and serve them chilled on a salad, or thaw and reheat them and add them to any dish that calls for lobster, shrimp or crab. For cooked dishes, remember to add them just a few minutes before removing the dish from the heat.

Like many shellfish, langostinos offer a lean, low-fat dining option.

the only caveat is that shellfish tend to be higher in cholesterol and can provide up to half of the daily amount recommended. One 3-oz serving has 72 calories, less than 1 gram of fat, 144 mg of cholesterol, 17 grams of protein and 500 mg of sodium.

Simply Seafood Spring 1995

Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 06-19-95

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