How to Select the Best Shellfish


Assorted Shellfish

One of the most important skill sets to acquire when learning to cook is how to select fresh foods.  Shellfish is no exception, as it is easy to prepare, and delicious, but tricky to buy.  There are some easy guidelines to help with this process.

Clams and Mussels are sold alive.  If they aren't closed tightly, tap the shells.  If they don't close up tightly, they aren't alive, and shouldn't be purchased.  They should also have a sweet smell.  They should be refrigerated and/or iced.  At home, they should be stored in a bowl, uncovered, in the refrigerator.  If they are stored in a plastic bag they will die of suffocation.

Oysters, when fresh, are sold in one of two ways, either shucked, or they are sold alive in the shell. If they are in the shell, the shells, similarly to clams and mussels, should be tightly closed, or close tightly when handled.  They are sold by the dozen, or in a bag of a bushel.    They will stay alive for about a week if stored dry at 40 degrees.  Oysters that are shucked are sold according to size in pints or gallons.  They should be plump.  They should have a creamy color and should be in clear liquid, and should keep for about a week in the refrigerator.  They should not be frozen at home, they suffer damage to quality when frozen in a home refrigerator, as it is too slow.

Most shrimp has been frozen at least once before it makes it to the market.  True fresh shrimp is usually only obtainable within an hour's drive of the coast.  Firm textures and a mild odor mark a fresh shrimp.  Cooked shrimp do not freeze terribly well, but headless raw shrimp freeze much better, particularly if they are frozen fresh.

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