If you are like me you like shellfish in all forms, shapes and sizes. I just cant get enough shellfish, particularly shrimps, squid and lobster. Personally, I think that shellfish are one of the best food sources available. They are almost all protein, no fat and almost zero cholesterol. What could be better?
But wait. Before you let yourself dash off to the nearest seafood restaurant here are a few things that you should know about your favourite tasty morsel. Shellfish are one of the most dangerous of all forms of food. That’s right, you heard me well, one of the most dangerous and for several reasons.
Firstly, even if you are one hundred percent sure that the shellfish in question is completely fresh, there is still the question of seafood allergies to consider. Shellfish have one of the highest counts of allergic reaction rates per capita. The reason for this is precisely because shellfish are constituted primarily of protein. Most of our immune responce reacts to proteins and the reason for that is because our antibodies are themselves proteins and they are designed to seek out foreign invaders who’s skeletal walls are made of protein.
One of our antibodies, which is known as “I.G.E” causes very acute responses of the immune system. One such immune response is anafilactic shock. If a protein from a shellfish is recognized as an alien threat and becomes attached to I.G.E. antibodies, a potentially fatal chain of reactions may be set into effect.
So, say a person would like to try shellfish for the first time, how could he test if he has an allergic response? One simple option is to take a piece of the shellfish after it has been cooked and to rub it onto the inside of the lower lip. If you are allergic the lip will either swell up, tingle or produce a burning sensation. One may also feel internal side effects such as tightness of breath, facial swelling, excessive salivation,sweating and drop in blood pressure which may cause vomiting , dizziness or red rashes over extensive areas of the body. If that is the case, seek medical treatment immediately in a hospital and don’t go anywhere near shellfish, they are not for you.
Up to now I have talked about allergic reaction to the protein in fresh and untainted shellfish. There is, however a different kind of allergic reaction that one can get from shellfish. It may be of little consequence to the sufferer how he got his allergic reaction but the difference is important from medicinal and scientific perspectives. One may suffer an allergic reaction to bacterial toxins and/or to waste products of bacteria within the shellfish itself. This is important because the person affected from such bacterial substances may not be allergic to shellfish at all per say and had it not been for the bacterial activity, no reaction would have been encountered at all.
The other danger concerning shellfish is that of bacterial infection. Shellfish are a very easy target for bacteria because a) they contain a high percentage of water and b) they are made up of protein which are an excellent source of food for many dangerous forms of bacteria such as the clostridium genus. Shellfish become contaminated up to ten times more quickly than most other forms of food.
This means that we need to take great care when dealing with shellfish. Shellfish are safest when bought frozen. The reason for this is they are caught by trawler ships which are really floating factories and they are frozen and packed within minutes of being caught on production lines which are maintained at a constant ambient temperature of four degrees celcius. In conditions such as these the likelihood of contamination is as near to zero as it is possible to get.
So how do you prepare frozen shellfish? My advise is not to thaw frozen shellfish. Boil water and throw them into the boiling water. Cook them until your crustaceans have changed color and all of them have turned pinky orange in color. Take them out of the water without cooling them at all and after allowing them to drain mix instantly with your pre cooked sauce, while the sauce is still boiling. Serve sizzling hot.
Never allow shellfish dishes to cool and I strongly advise against re heating shellfish dishes, including Paella. Keep it simple and safe, thats the key. In the case of frozen clams, mussels, winkels and such like, discard any that have not opened during the cooking process.
When buying fresh shellfish you should always ensure that the creatures are still alive. If they don’t move, don’t buy. Shells like clams should be closed and you should see them tighten the pressure of the closure when you tap the shell. Do not buy any that don’t react. Personally I like to buy directly from the fishing boats right after they have docked. That way I am one hundred percent sure that they are absolutely fresh. Definitely do not by anything that is not stocked in crushed ice.
One trick that a lot of merchants use and you should look out for is to splash fresh sea water over shellfish and other forms of fish. The reason they do this is so that the merchandise had a fresh sea smell that will make it more difficult for you to recognize other bad smells that might be present on fish and shellfish that has not been stored properly and has been outside for an extended period of time. Watch out for this. If you sea a bucket of water near a stand, you will now know it’s purpose.
Shellfish should be cooked in a sauce which is tart, peppered and salted to taste. All of these qualities will lower the Ph of the shellfish and lessen the risk of bacterial growth. Avoid adding leaf herbs to shellfish because leaf herbs have bacteria on them which may contaminate your food.
All spices and herbs, if used, should be fried in oil at the beginning of the preparation of the sauce. This way, any bacteria in the spice or on the herb will be killed by the heat of the oil.
Follow these basic principles and you should stay out of shellfish hell.