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Quite simply, shellfish are animals contained in a shell. They have no fins, vertebrae or skull. Their meat is tender because the muscles are soft.

There are two types of shellfish: mollusks and crustaceans.

Mollusks have a soft body which may be completely or partially enclosed in a shell. Clams, mussels, scallops, and oysters are some examples of mollusks. Crustaceans possess segmented, elongated bodies with crustlike shells. Their eyes are mounted on stalks and their bodies may or may not be symmetrical. Lobsters, crabs, and shrimp are some representatives of crustaceans.

Since each shellfish has distinguishing characteristics, a brief description of each follows:

Clams -- Clams abound on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Hard, soft, and surf clams are found in the Atlantic. Butter, littleneck, razor and piso clams are scattered along the floor of the Pacific.

Hard-shelled clams are called "quahog" in New England, where the word "clam" refers to the soft-shelled variety. In the middle Atlantic states, "clam" means the hard clam. Clam meat is orange in color and can be used in any recipe which calls for oysters.

Crabs -- There are three common types of crabs. The blue crab is found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Dungeness crabs inhabit the Pacific. The king crab lives in the chilly waters off the Alaskan coast. The stone crabs and the tanner crabs are not as well-known, but are becoming increasingly popular. A common misconception concerns the soft-shelled crab. They are not a separate species.

Soft- shelled crabs are blue crabs who have molted and the new shell has not had time to harden.

Lobsters -- Northern lobster is found off the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts, while spiny or rock lobsters pick their way along the Florida and California coasts. Not only do lobsters vary in locale, but in general appearance as well. Northern lobsters possess pincers while spiny lobsters don't.

Mussels -- Mussels are found in fresh and salt-water, but only salt-water mussels are eaten. A favorite in Europe, mussels do not enjoy the popularity of the other seafoods in the United States.

Oysters -- There are three types of oysters. The Eastern oysters are found or cultivated from Massachusetts to Texas along the East and Gulf coasts. The Pacific and Western, or Olympia, oysters are found or cultivated along the West coast from Washington to Mexico.

Periwinkles -- -Periwinkles are small snails found in fresh and salt-water in Europe and off the Eastern coast of North America.

Prawns -- Prawns are found in temperate and tropical waters. They resemble and are often mistaken for large shrimp. Unlike shrimp, however, prawns do not possess a visible vein which requires cleaning.

Scallops -- Scallops differ from other mollusks in that they are active swimmers. By snapping its shell and spurting out a jet of water the scallop can move about. This novel form of locomotion causes the development of an over-sized muscle called the abductor muscle. This is the only part of the scallop which is eaten by Americans.

Sea and bay scallops are the most common types. Sea scallops are taken from the North and Mid-Atlantic waters. They are generally larger than bay scallops which are found in the bays from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. Gaining in popularity in recent years are the calico scallops from Florida and the sea scallops from Alaska.

Scallops may be substituted for shrimp in most recipes.

Shrimp -- There are various species of shrimp. Raw shrimp is distinguished by color. The common or white shrimp is greenish- gray. Brown or Brazilian shrimp is brownish-red. Pink or coral shrimp is pink or coral. When cooked, however, all shrimp turn pinkish-red in color. Shrimp are caught in the coastal waters of the United States, but the majority come from the Gulf of Mexico.

Like finfish, shellfish are very nutritious. They are particularly rich in the minerals calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper, magnesium, and iodine. Although the amounts vary with the type of shellfish, vitamins A., B, and D are usually present. Shellfish are also a good source of protein.

Unlike finfish, which have varying fat contents, all shellfish are lean and low in salt. This makes mollusks and crustaceans excellent choices for low calorie and low sodium diets.

: About the Author

Adam Starchild has combined business travel with discovering the delights of native dishes from Hawaii and Hong Kong to Russia and the Caribbean. He is the author of The Seafood Heritage Cookbook (Cornell Maritime Press), co-author of another seafood cookbook, and the author of a number of food and cooking articles.

Submitted By BARRY WEINSTEIN On 08-30-95

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