Our greatest joys as chefs are cooking, serving and educating students and staff about the many types of seafood that are available to purchase. Shellfish is one type of seafood that is both delicious and available to cook, both in professional kitchens and in our homes. In this post, I will focus on three types that are featured in the opening image. Oysters, clams, and lobster.
Although most of the earth is covered with oceans much of our treasured wild seafood is being overfished. That being said it is important for us to learn about the types of seafood that are sustainable to serve and to make sure that we as chefs and home cooks treat the seafood with the care and respect that it deserves. As a culinary arts teacher, I emphasize this on a continuing basis in our kitchen labs and classrooms. For a good resource for checking on which fish and seafood to use and to avoid see the link from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:
Here are a few tips for how to cook, care for and serve some of these beloved shellfish that come from the seas.
Littleneck clams are the smallest size available of the Atlantic clam species. These are easiest to serve by cooking them quickly in a very hot pan with shallots, garlic, parsley, and white wine, covered and steamed to release their own juices. Cook them until they open wide and serve with crusty French bread.
Another way that takes more effort is to cool them after they are cooked and then remove one of the shells and serve them topped with a garlic herb butter, bread crumbs and crisp bacon. To make this even more interesting I remove the clams from the shells, then chop them and add them to a tomato, fennel, bell pepper and onion mixture that I reduce down with the clam cooking liquid prior to cooling and topping with bread crumbs and bacon. This is my way to create the classic “Clams Casino” which, as legend has it, is said to have been created in 1917 by a Maitre de’ in New England.
Maine lobster is a cold water species that is famous for being one of the finest lobsters in the world. The best way to purchase it is alive! After killing it by piercing the head between the eyes with a heavy chefs knife immediately cook it in a steamer or rapidly boiling salted water for 7 to 8 minutes per pound. Then split and serve it or ice it down and cool for another use. I like to serve 1 1/2 to 2-pound lobsters which are the most tender.
If I remove the meat from the shells I always go on to use the shells for a lobster stock or lobster cream by roasting them and then crushing them up prior to sauteeing them with 25% mirepoix and a little tomato paste. The next step is to add a good amount of brandy and then carefully ignite (flambee) prior to adding herbs and water for a lobster stock or heavy cream and a small amount of water for a decadent sauce.
Eating oysters raw on the half shell just after being shucked is an acquired taste. However, it is cherished by many who love the creaminess and briny saltiness that can only be found in these raw bi-valve creatures that are farmed or harvested wild from our coastal regions. There are many different types of oysters available in this country, all of which belong to only 5 species. They are Atlantic, Pacific, Kumamoto, Belon or European flat and Olympia all of which are different in taste and size. Atlantic Bluepoint oysters, which are the ones pictured in the opening image of this post, are one of the most popular types; some of the best come from the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. For more on oysters go to
As with all oysters, when served raw it is best to know where they originate specifically and purchase them from repeatable dealers. This is due to the fact that eating them raw can be dangerous to your health if the oyster has been tainted by toxins or pollutants that can cause serious illness if consumed raw. Cooking them is a safer way to eat them and two of the best ways to do this are either fried or baked as in the classic oyster dish “Oysters Rockefeller”.
Shellfish are also often served cold for buffets, at raw bars and in the famous cold seafood platter known as “L’assiette fruits de mer” which when translated from French means, a platter of seafood. I like to serve cold seafood on canapes as well. Here are three of my favorites: Butter Poached Royal Rock Shrimp, Smoked Mussels and Cilantro Lime Grilled Scallops. Simply delicious!