Which Fish is Which? A Seafood Primer.


n / adj crustacean [kr-stshn]

any of a group of animals whose bodies are covered with a hard shell.


mol·lusk / mol·lusc

n mollusk or mollus [mlsk]

invertebrate having a soft unsegmented body usually enclosed in a shell.

Just call it shellfish.

Shellfish is the broad term for all aquatic animals, both marine and freshwater, with some kind of shell; it encompasses the categories of crustaceans and mollusks. Crustaceans include crab, shrimp, and lobster. Mollusks can be univalves like snails and abalone, bivalves like clams and mussels, or cephalopods like squid and octopus.

Wikipedia links to 87 pages of edible crustacean varieties and 100 pages of edible mollusks. Of course just because something is fit to be eaten doesn’t mean we want to eat it. The oceans are a veritable freakshow of variety: spiky, scaly, bug-eyed, webbed, stalked, hoofed, crusted, and webbed. Tasty? Perhaps. But some varieties are best left to the sunless depths rather than risking a child abuse charge for feeding them to your family.

Shellfish are are a feature of nearly every one of the world’s cuisines. The few exceptions include groups with dietary restrictions due to religious beliefs. Jews and Seventh Day Adventists follow the shellfish ban set out in the biblical book of Levitticus. In Islam, the Hanafi school of the Sunni sect and the Shi’ite school of Ja’fari forbid shellfish consumption.

A question of cruelty.

Yes, shellfish perceive pain when they are plunged into boiling water. Is it cruel? The jury is still out on that. With their minimal nervous systems it is hard to say if the experience is distressing. A more humane cooking method starts by freezing the shellfish briefly before cooking. About 15 minutes in the freezer is enough to numb most shellfish nervous systems.

The R-less months.

May, June, July, August. We used to be taught to avoid oysters and other shellfish during the warm weather months. Toxin-carrying algae tends to bloom along coastlines in summertime, but most shellfish is commercially harvested, and most locally harvested shellfish comes from regulated waters. Unless you defy regulations and do your own clamming, you can have worry-free oysters. year-round. However spawning shellfish, also a summer phenomenon, tend to be bland and mushy.

Fun with fish.

Test your shellfish knowledge with this invertebrate quiz.

Vote for your favorite in Fan Pop’s shellfish poll.

Check out the photo galleries of edible, aquatic monstrosities at Ugly Food and Ugly Overload.

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