A Guide to Summer Shellfish
Summer is the season for Ireland’s best and freshest crustaceans. From large Dublin Bay Prawns or Langoustines as they are also known, to lobsters and crab, they are all caught off the coast of Ireland and have the best taste and texture this time of year from our pure clean waters.
In our guide, learn how to prepare these fresh shellfish at home and enjoy some great recipes from top chefs.
The best lobster is bought fresh and alive. You can buy it cooked and frozen but it’s nowhere near the same in taste. So if you want to enjoy the king of shellfish at its absolute best, hunt down a fishmonger who has a lobster tank and take the plunge! A whole fresh lobster weighting around 500g will feed one person only. When you buy a fresh live lobster you will notice there are rubber bands around the claws. They are there for a reason! Don’t remove them until your lobster is well and truly cooked.
Chefs recommend putting your lobster in the fridge for an hour or two before cooking as this makes them dozy and docile. Some chefs insist on piercing the lobster with the point of a sharp knife through the shell, at the cross mark on the head, which kills the brain immediately. But it’s not pleasant to do and probably not for the faint hearted. For a home cook, probably the most humane and manageable way to cook a lobster from live is to place it into a large pot of cold water then bring slowly up to the boil. As the water gets warmer the lobster will faint and will have little knowledge of what’s happening. Simmer gently for around ten minutes for a 500kg lobster. The shell will turn from speckled blue to deep reddish pink. When the lobster is cooked, remove it from the water, drain and cool.
- Twist off the claws and and legs. Remove the claws and crack them by tapping sharply with the back of a knife. Leave the cracked shells on to keep the meat moist.
- Crack the leg shells and leave for guests to pick the meat out, or pick it out in advance by using a lobster pick.
- Split the tail shell in half and the meat will be easy to extract. Serve the lobster tail in the shell surrounded by the leg meat and claws ready to be pulled apart and devoured. Use lobster picks to help you extract the meat.
- Serve with homemade mayonnaise, lemon, crusty bread and salad or follow one of our recipes.
Look for a live crab which is active and feels heavier than its weight. Alternatively, buy a cooked whole crab which you know is absolutely fresh.
- The cooking process for crab is much the same as lobster. Bring slowly to the boil in a large pot and bubble for about twelve minutes per kg. Remove from the pan, drain and cool. Some recipes tell you to plunge your crab into already boiling water, but this tends to make the creature ‘throw’ its claws with shock. They will actually separate from the body.
- Turn the cooked cooled crab on its back and twist off legs and claws
- Press down hard on the undershell and find the gap where it meets the body. Get your fingers in there and pull upwards firmly. It should come away in one piece from the carapace (top shell).
- Pick off the feathery gills or ‘dead man’s fingers’ and discard. You will find these around the body bit you’ve pulled off. Check inside the main shell also in case any remain there.
- Cut this main body of the crab in half. Get your lobster pick or skewer and wheedle it in the holes to extract all the white meat from the holes and nooks in the main body. There is quite a lot of meat in here so stick at it.
- Scoop the brown meat out from inside the top shell and set aside. Get a small spoon and get right into the edges of the shell.
- Crack the legs and pick out the meat with lobster picks.
- Crack claws with one sharp tap with the back of a heavy knife, small hammer or rolling pin, trying not to shatter them. Remove the shells leaving the claw meat intact as much as possible. You can either serve the claws whole or flake the white meat from the inner thin boney cartledge, discarding this.
- Pick through all the flaked white meat with fingers to make sure there is no shell, then use for a recipe or serve with the brown meat in the cleaned out top shell as a dressed crab.
DUBLIN BAY PRAWNS/LANGOUSTINES
These look like baby lobsters. They have long tails and long front claws. But the the front claws contain little or no meat. The French love to suck the cooked claw shells to extract all the juices. I don’t know if we are ready for that in Ireland yet, but if you feel brave, you can give it a go!
The most important thing with Dublin Bay Prawns is to make sure they are as fresh as they can be. If they are still alive even better. There are several ways to prepare them.
FOR RAW SHELLED PRAWN TAILS
Raw prawn tails are useful for Thai style curries, stir fries, risottos and pasta dishes. Prepare your prawns by first pulling the heads from the bodies. You can keep the heads for shelffish stock or discard. To extract the whole meat from the tail shell, turn each prawn upside down and press all the way down the shell at the edges with your fingers till you hear it cracking. Break the shell by pulling it apart on the underside, then peel it off. This is not the best job in the world and can be quite hard on the hands because the shells have sharp points underneath, but it will be worth it when you have fresh raw prawn tails for your recipe.
FOR BOILED DUBLIN BAY PRAWNS
- Make sure your prawns are as fresh as they can be. This is vitally important for the quality and to eliminate potential health risk.
- Cook your prawns by popping into rapidly boiling water and cook for four minutes.
- Remove, drain and run under cold water to cool.
- You can now either split each prawn lengthways and arrange on a platter to serve with mayo, lemon juice and seasoning and brown bread and butter. Or remove the tail shells and crack as above, to use for a luxury prawn cocktail or salad.
FOR GRILLED DUBLIN BAY PRAWNS
- Carefully split the prawns lengthways and lay on a baking sheet.
- Drizzle with melted garlic butter.
- Season with black pepper and lemon juice.
- Place under a pre-heated grill for just a couple of minutes till the flesh is just opaque.
- Arrange on a warm platter and serve immediately, drizzled with extra garlic butter and sprinkled with parsley! Absolutely delicious.
GREAT SHELLFISH RECIPES
Try Crab Cakes with Hollandaise Sauce from The River Lee or Clonakilty Crabcakes from Richy Virahsawmy of Richy's Restaurant and R Café in Clonakilty, West Cork. Or go for fresh and simple with Tower of Crab Meat from Tim O'Sullivan of Renvyle House in Co. Galway.