Expert Tips on Choosing & Serving the Freshest Shellfish

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Feasting is our column dedicated to cooking, grilling, eating and discovering what’s on the menu across America and the world.

Bad seafood can turn you off to the stuff forever, whether it’s fishy, sandy or simply too old. So we turned to the experts at Mitchell’s Fish Market Seafood Restaurant & Bar in Edgewater, New Jersey, because they’re known for a delectable raw bar selection and expert seafood preparations. If you’re looking for tips on how to choose, prep and present your favorite types of shellfish, heed this advice from Executive Chef Joe Lopez.

First things first—you actually have to choose the shellfish you want to prepare. This can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve never hit the fishmonger or your local farmers market in search of the stuff before. But according to Lopez, it’s actually quite simple, as long as you use your senses and ask the right questions:

  1. Give the shellfish a sniff. It should have a nice, clean ocean smell. The briny smell of saltwater is good, but avoid anything that smells sour or overly fishy.
  2. The fish should be a bright, clean color. If it doesn’t look appealing, pass.
  3. Talk to the fishmonger and ask about the catch or harvest date. If it wasn’t caught that day or the previous day, ask him or her to suggest something fresher.

Now that you’ve purchased the freshest shellfish possible, it’s time to go home and prepare it. Whether you went for lobster and crab or plan on putting together a raw spread of oysters and clams, Lopez has experts tips for the most popular types of shellfish.

Clams and Oysters

oysters

These bivalves are the easiest of the shellfish to prepare. Simply rinse them with cold water to remove any sand and shuck immediately before serving for the freshest possible flavor.

Mussels

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First, make sure your mussels are alive. To check, give open mussels a little tap on the side of a plate—they should close when you do this. Next, rinse them under cold water and remove the beard (the small string-like piece hanging out of the opening in the shell) by tugging it lightly. Keep the mussels chilled on ice before cooking or serving. To prepare, Lopez suggests sautéing mussels with white wine, garlic and shallots, then steaming them until the shells pop open. Remember to discard any mussels that don’t open because that means they were dead before they went in the pot.

Crab

crab

Wash all types of crab in cold water before cooking. If you’re dealing with king crab, use a knife to remove the spikes on the outside of the shell. Then score the legs down the middle and split in half. Store in the fridge and serve within 24 hours.

Lobster

cooked-lobster

Steam and chill the lobster immediately. If you’re not serving right away, split the lobster and pull the meat out slightly so it doesn’t stick to the shell. Chill until ready to eat.

Shrimp

how to choose shellfish stock raw shrimp

Peel the shrimp and cut a slit in the back with a paring knife. Rinse under cold water, scrubbing very lightly to remove the “vein.”

After cleaning and prepping your shellfish, you want to present it in a beautiful array. Lopez suggests first filling stainless steel trays with dry ice to keep things extra cold and make the entire tower look baller. Top the dry ice with crushed ice (or go straight to this step if you want to skip the dry) and add a little water before serving to create smoke and put on a show. Serve sauces like mignonette, cocktail sauce, Crab Louie, drawn butter and fresh lemon wedges alongside the shellfish.