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Surveying Superior Shellfish

Posted Apr 24 2009 7:22am

The term shellfish includes seafood such as shrimp, lobster, oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops, which all have a shell instead of fins and gills. It also includes some seafood that have a not-so-obvious shell, like octopus and squid.

The texture of these tasty tidbits ranges from exceptionally tender, in the case of lobster and some shrimp, to a bit chewy, in the case of octopus. It's probably not a surprise that the tenderness of these delicate creatures depends, in part, on how well you cook them.

Avoid overcooking shellfish. Doing so causes the texture to become rubbery and unpleasant.

Mussels with Pastis

This dish comes from Lewis Rossman, from Cetrella in Half Moon Bay, Californiasee Appendix A). The mussels are a wonderful source of lean protein, as is true of most fish. Pastis (pronounced pas TEES) is a French licorice-flavored liqueur. Enjoy these shellfish atop a small bed of pasta or along with any steamed vegetables of your choice. You can see this dish in the color section.

You don't need any additional salt here. You'll notice the sodium content of this dish is already mildly high, due mainly to the naturally high sodium levels of saltwater shellfish. Just be sure to limit or avoid any added salt for the remainder of the meal.

Choose mussels that are closed with their shells intact. Discard any with open, chipped, or broken shells. Soak your raw mussels for about 20 minutes in cool, clean water before cooking. They'll take in water and expel excess salt and sand. Scrub the soaked mussels with a stiff brush. Remove the beard (or hairlike thread) by pulling toward the mussel's hinge. Rinse again in cool, clean water before using them.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 white onion, diced

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chopped anchovy

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 pounds mussels, raw, scrubbed, and debearded

6 tablespoons pastis

Splash white wine

1/4 cup tomato sauce

1. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté until tender the onion is tender. Add the garlic, anchovy, parsley, and mussels. Continue to cook until the mussels start to open, about 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Add the pastis. (If you're cooking on a gas range, remove the sauté pan from the burner before adding the pastis. Because it contains quite a bit of alcohol, it can easily catch fire, so you don't want it near an open flame. Return your pan to the burner after you've added the pastis). Add the white wine and tomato sauce. Cover and simmer another 2 to 3 minutes, until most of the shells are open.

If most but not all of the shells are open, you can cover the dish and cook another minute or two. But if they don't open after these additional minutes, discard any unopened mussels. It's not safe to eat closed mussels because they can contain harmful bacteria. And don't waste your time continuing to cook them, hoping they'll open. You end up overcooking the good ones. Cut your losses with a few that don't open, and savor the ones that do!

3. Scoop the mussels, along with tomato broth, into a large serving dish.

Tip:Serve alone, with crusty bread, or on top of pasta. Add a green salad for a great meal in minutes.

Tip:If you can't find pastis in your local spirits shop, substitute Sambuca, Ouzo, or Pernod instead. You'll get a similar anise or licorice flavor.

Per serving:Kcalories 261 (From Fat 91); Fat 10g (Saturated 2g); Cholesterol 66mg; Sodium 949mg; Carbohydrate 12g (Dietary Fiber 1g); Protein 28g.

Exchanges:1/2 other carbohydrate, 4 very lean meat, 1 fat

Rock Shrimp Ceviche

Ceviche (pronounced se-VEECH or se-vee-CHEE) is an amazing food. Born out of the necessity of using acid to retard food spoilage, it's a delicious and healthy cooking technique. In a nutshell, raw seafood, usually whitefish or shrimp, is placed in an acid, most often lime juice, which in essence "cooks" the fish. Feel free to add chiles, onions, and tomatoes to your ceviche for a full-flavored experience.

Use only very fresh (or freshly frozen and then very recently thawed) seafood in ceviche because it never reaches temperatures high enough to kill strong bacteria.

With this ceviche dish from Lewis Rossman at Cetrella Bistro and Café in Half Moon Bay, California, you and your company are in for a treat. It's even simple to prepare. Rock shrimp is a sweet shrimp with an almost lobsterlike flavor and texture. It's an extremely succulent shrimp that cooks quickly, so it's a natural choice for this no-heat cooking method. The acidic nature of the lime juice actually cooks the fish — without any stove, pots, or pans. Leave it to marinate for an hour, and it's ready to serve. Ceviche makes for a great first course, especially in the hot summer months, as it is quite light and refreshing and contains almost no fat. Enjoy!

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus marinating time of 1 hour

Yield: 4 servings

1 pound rock shrimp, roughly chopped

1 mango, small dice

1 shallot, finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)

1 pinch chili flakes

Salt and pepper

Place the rock shrimp in a bowl and mix together with the mango, shallot, cilantro, lime juice, and chili flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour. The ceviche looks particularly attractive served in a martini glass.

Per serving:Kcalories 131 (From Fat 10); Fat 1g (Saturated 0g); Cholesterol 168mg; Sodium 340mg; Carbohydrate 13g (Dietary Fiber 1g); Protein 19g.

Exchanges:1 fruit, 3 very lean meat

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