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Crustaceans 101 (Includes Shrimp, Lobster and Crab 101’s)

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Crustaceans 101

Crustaceans include lobster, spiny lobster (scampi), and crab that live in the sea, but there are freshwater crustaceans as well, such as crayfish and some species of crab and shrimp. Crustaceans cause allergic reactions in some people.



Live crustaceans should be heavy and vigorous (lobsters and crabs, move their legs), with a pleasant smell and an intact shell. After cooking, the shell should be pink or bright red, without any greenish or blackish marks; the meat should be firm with a pleasant smell; and the tail should be curled, a sign the crustacean was still alive when it was cooked. The freshness of frozen crustaceans (raw, cooked or prepared as a dish) is shown by the absence of frost on the inside of the packaging or any drying-out of the meat (freezer burn). Raw or cooked crustaceans may have been defrosted. It is best to check, as, if this is the case, they should not be refrozen and do not keep as long.



Crustaceans should be kept alive until the moment they are cooked. Almost all crustaceans change color and become pink when plunged into boiling water. Before cooking, fill in any holes in the shell of lobsters and crabs using pressed pieces of crustless bread.

There are several ways to boil live crustaceans. Generally, they are plunged headfirst into boiling water to kill them instantly (be careful of splashes caused by the tails curling). Some claim that killing the crustaceans this way makes them tastier, others consider this method to be cruel, and find it toughens the meat.  In this case, crustaceans are placed in the freezer for an hour (to put them to sleep so they die gently) or in to freshwater, seawater, fresh salted water (add 1-2 tablespoons per 4 cups of water) or a fish stock that is then brought slowly to a boil. Cooking time varies depending on the species and its size, but overcooked crustacean meat becomes tough and loses its flavor.


Shrimp 101

Pink shrimp: Colored pink-red and measure 3-4” in length.

Giant tiger shrimp: Measure 6-12” in length



Choose fresh, firm bodied shrimp with a mild sea smell; frozen shrimp with no frost or drying. Shrimp are better if they have not been completely defrosted or if they have been defrosted slowly in the fridge.

Avoid soft, slimy shrimp, those whose body is separated from the shell and those with an ammonia smell or with black spots. Highly fragile shrimp are frozen, covered with ice on the fishing boat, or cooked immediately. They are sold whole or with their head removed, fresh or frozen, cooked or smoked, shelled or unshelled. They can be dried or canned. The largest shrimp are the most expensive.

Shrimp are often labeled small, medium, large, extra-large or jumbo but there is little consistency in what the terms mean. Choose by number of shrimp per pound-for example “16/20” refers to 16 to 20 shrimp per pound.



In the fridge: 1-2 days

In the freezer: 1 month



When using whole shrimp, remove its shell. Hold the head in one hand and the body in the other, and pull so that the head tears off, take the shell with it. Any parts of the shell still attached to the body can then be removed. For headless shrimp, the shell can be cut with scissors before being removed, or just removed as is. It is easier to shell a slightly frozen shrimp than an unfrozen one. Two pounds of unshelled shrimp only gives 1 pound of cooked meat, as there is 50% waste for whole, raw, unshelled shrimp.

The shell makes excellent stock, which can be used for cooking shrimp. To prepare the stock, cover the shells with boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes, then strain the liquid before adding the shrimp. Uncooked shells can be ground and added to butter as a flavoring.

Shrimp can be eaten with their intestine (the black vein along the back) still intact. Some prefer deveined (some are sold deveined). Make a small slice into the flesh with a point of a knife parallel to the vein, then pull out the intestine.



Shrimp is delicious hot or cold, as an hors d’ oeuvre, appetizer or main dish (by itself or with meat, poultry, veggies, or pasta dishes). It is used in soups, sauces, stuffings and salads. Shrimp can replace other crustaceans in most recipes.


Crab 101

Crab does not contain very much meat. The meat is found in its body, legs, and claws and the liver and creamy substance under its shell, are edible. Its white meat is lean, stringy and tasty. There are 8 types of crab: Green Crab (usually sold as bait for game fishing), Atlantic Common Crab (has excellent meat), Velvet Swimming Crab (meat is highly prized), Spider Crab (fine meat is tastier in females), Snow Crab (weighs in at almost 3 pounds and its unique tasting meat is highly sought after), Pacific Common Crab (this includes Dungness crabs), Blue Crab (excellent sweet tasting meat), and the Soft Shelled Crab (a blue crab that has molted. Sautéed in butter and served with a tartar sauce)



Avoid a frozen crab that is dried out or covered in frost. Sometimes sold live, crab meat is mostly sold cooked, frozen or canned. Imitation crab products are also available on the market.

Do not buy a live crab unless it moves its legs. Grasp the crab from behind to avoid its claws.



Crab dies quickly way from its natural habitat.

In the fridge: Place live crab in a damp cloth for up to 12 hours; cooked 1-2 days.

In the freezer: Cooked limp or claw crab meat for 1 month.



Live crab is cooked the same way as lobster.

Boiled: Plunge the crab into boiling salted water for 10-20 minutes for 6” crab, or up to 30 minutes, if it is very large.



To prepare cooked crab, make a slice between its underside and shell, and tear the shell off the top of the crab. Take care not to damage the shell if it will be used as a container for serving the crab. Detach the legs and claws, and then break them with a nut-cracker or heavy instrument. All that remains is to remove the meat.



Crab is delicious hot or cold. It is prepared the same way as other crustaceans, which it can replace in most recipes. It is used in hors d’ oeuvres, salads, sandwiches and soups. Crab is tasty in sauce or in pasta dishes. It is often fried in its shell.



Lobster 101

The edible parts of the lobster are the meat of the abdomen (or tail), the legs, the claws, the coral and the greenish liver located near the thorax. The white and pink-tinged meat of the lobster is lean, firm, delicate, and very tasty.



Choose a lively lobster (when grasped by its sides it should curl its tail abruptly under its body). A cooked lobster should have black, shiny eyes, firm meat and a pleasant smell.
Lobster is bought live, frozen, or canned (in pieces or as a pate).



Lobster can live 3-5 days away from its natural habitat if placed in a saltwater fish tank. After buying, avoid keeping lobster at room temperature. Cook immediately, or cover with a damp cloth and place in fridge briefly.

In the fridge: cooked, 1-2 days

In the freezer: 1 month, cooked, drained, then left as is or, preferably, remove the meat form the shell. Cool the meat in the fridge, then place in freezer containers, covered in brine (2 tsp. of salt per cup of water) and closed with a lid. The whole lobster, cooked and cooled, can also be placed in a sealed, airtight freezer bag.



For tastier lobster, before boiling, block the holes in the shell with fresh crustless bread, preferably pressed between the fingers. To cut the lobster in two, position the tip of a knife in the center of the head and pierce down to the board. Turn the lobster around and, beginning at the head, split the lobster in half lengthwise. Remove intestines located underneath the tail and the pockets near the start of the head.



For maximum freshness, it is suggested that lobster be cooked live

Boiled (in sea water, fresh water, fish stock): Plunge the lobster head first into the boiling liquid. As with crab, some find this method cruel. Follow the alternative method as with crab.

For either method, allow 12 minutes of cooking time per pound, adding 1 minute for additional 4.5 oz.

When lobster is cooked in boiling water, time the cooking from the moment the lobster is plunged into the water. When it is cooked in cold water, time the cooking form the moment the liquid comes to a boil. Always cover lobsters completely in liquid to cook them. Before serving the lobster, make a hole in its head so that the liquid contained under the shell can drain.

Grilled: Cut the lobster in two lengthwise. Brush the flesh with oil, lemon juice and, if desired, ground pepper; 10 minutes.

Do not defrost a frozen cooked lobster. It will be tastier if it is simply reheated for 2 minutes in boiling water.




Lobster is eaten cooked, hot or cold (in salads and sandwiches). It is greatly enjoyed with garlic or lemon butter, with mayo or plain. To get the meat out of the claws, use a lobster cracker or nutcracker, the handle of a heavy knife, or even a hammer.

Lobster is prepared as bisque, soufflé or in sauce and can be gratinéed. Lobster thermidor,

lobster à l’ américaine, and lobster Newburg are classic lobster dishes.

The shell can be used to make fish stock and to flavor bisques, stews and sauces.















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