What’s your favourite kind of shellfish? The term “shellfish” refers to a broad spectrum of different aquatic (water-dwelling) invertebrates, and they aren’t technically fish at all. This category includes things such as oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, and shrimp, all of which are a delectable addition to your table.
It is important to note that shellfish can be trickier to harvest and manage, as they are more prone to carry bacteria and toxins that can cause foodborne illness, especially when consumed raw. This is why it is very important to harvest, store, and prepare shellfish appropriately to avoid getting sick. But this effort is worth it!
A special kind of shellfish can be found nearby off the coast of Vancouver Island, in the rich waters of Deep Bay: Kusshi Oysters. Named from the Japanese word for “ultimate”, these oysters are indeed the ultimate bite.
One of the reasons these oysters are so great is their special farming method. They are first grown suspended, which normally causes oyster shells to become brittle, as they have been protected from predators, mud, sand, and silt. However Kusshi oysters are then tumbled, creating a hard shell that not only makes it much easier to shuck, but it adds a distinctive look as it chips the outer edges of the shell.
Once purchased store them dry in a damp cool place, such inside a bowl with a damp cloth on top. Do not store them directly on or underneath ice, as oysters will die if they sit in fresh water. To serve you can keep them on ice, but they shouldn’t stay there more than an hour, and should not end up sitting in fresh water.
Normally with oysters you can have them in soup, stews, deep fry or even bake them. However with Kusshi Oysters, it is best to enjoy them raw. They have a clean and delicate flavour and are firm yet plump, making them a delicious addition starter. Just a dash of lemon juice or Tabasco sauce if you really want, otherwise enjoy the pure taste of smooth oyster.
Mussels is one of the shellfish that have been consumed for thousands of years on the west coast. The most popular one in BC is the Mytilus edulis, commonly known as Blue Mussel. These have a smooth outer shell which ranges in colour from blue to black, often with flecks of tan and brown. They are slightly elongated in shape creating a flattened teardrop, and grow up to 11 cm. Their interior is a whitish colour, and are renowned for a sweet taste.
While it can be intimidating to store and prepare your own mussels, it is quite simple once you know the basics.
In order to make sure our customers get the highest quality of mussels, we keep all of ours in fresh tanks in our store ready for you to take home. Before we let you do that, we’ll also be sure to look through the bag and check for quality, as the brittle shells can sometimes crack during the transportation process.
Once purchased, the best way to store mussels at home is in a cold, damp, and aerated environment. This means you should not leave them in water in your fridge. Standing water can very quickly become oxygen deprived, which will kill the mussels and cause them to spoil.
Instead, we recommend placing the mussels in a colander that is housed inside another bowl or container. Then, cover the mussels with a cold damp cloth and lay ice cubes on top of it.
When ready to prepare make sure you check for any dead mussels. You should never eat mussels that die before you begin cooking. When they die, the shell that is held closed by the adductor muscle will open. A quick, gentle tap will cause a live mussel to close its shell, allowing you to identify and discard any dead mussels.
And of course before you begin your cooking make sure that you have any other ingredients, preparations, and serving dishes ready, as mussels cook very quickly, and are at their best eaten and served immediately. Here are a few recipe ideas.
Manila clams are small, sweet clams, with deep, wide bars of colour over a finely ridged shell. Harvested off the coast of Vancouver Island, our clams are free of sand and grit, and can vary in size from 1.5 inches to 2.5 inches. Rich in iron and Vitamin C, they make a great appetizer or main dish.
Once purchased, clams should be stored in a dish without water and covered with a moist cloth to preserve freshness. When ready to cook, the clams should be closed or close when touched. Whether steamed, sauteed, grilled, fried, or made into chowder - there are plenty of ways of enjoying these clams.
Throughout the year we carry a variety of different shrimp, the most prized being Spot Prawns which we’ve written about here. The second best and regularly available are our Sidestripe shrimp, which are prized for their remarkably sweet yet delicate flavour. Cooking only takes one to two minutes or they may be eaten raw, either sashimi-style or marinated in a light citrus acid for ceviche.
Fresh Tomato Sauce Recipe
This sauce is a great base for all kinds of shellfish. You can either cook shellfish separately by sautéing or add them into the tomato sauce to cook. Great served with pasta or just a loaf of crusty bread.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 6 tomatoes blended or very finely chopped
- Salt and pepper
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Small handful fresh basil leaves
Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute.
Pour in the tomatoes and bring to a simmer on medium low heat. Stir occasionally and let cook until it starts to thicken, about 15 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, a sprinkle of chili flakes, sugar, and butter. Stir to combine and remove from the heat.
Just before serving stir in the fresh basil leaves. If making pasta, mix together with a little of the pasta water as well to make it nice and creamy and stick to the pasta.
Shellfish are delicate and a little bit picky, but once you know how to properly prepare and store them they are a delicious addition to your cooking repertoire. Whether eaten raw or cooked, a shellfish dish is always sure to impress! Come see our fresh fish counter or order online for your shellfish needs.
If you don’t want the effort of preparing everything yourself you can always come to our Kitchen and see what’s cooking. A popular choice is our Oyster Burger, which is a great way to have oysters if you’re a bit scared of having them raw, but still want that salty briny deliciousness. Coated then deep fried, come and try for yourself!