Shellfish is a colloquial and fisheries term for exoskeleton-bearing aquatic invertebrates used as food.
Bivalve mollusks, including oysters, mussels, scallops, and clams, rank among the most commercially important shellfish throughout the world.
Although most kinds of shellfish are harvested from saltwater environments, some are found in freshwater. In addition, a few species of land crabs are eaten, for example Cardisoma guanhumi in the Caribbean.
After being harvested, all shellfish are highly perishable. Icing or freezing is often used, when transporting shellfish away from coastal areas or on board fishing vessels that are hours or days from land.
Most shellfish benefit from brief and gentle cooking – with high heat they may disintegrate or turn rubbery, and the flavor becomes disagreeably strong. Shellfish are frequently served with rich or highly seasoned sauces. A discussion of the current scientific evidence on the ability of shellfish to experience pain and other forms of suffering has been included.
Shellfish dishes are a feature of almost all the cuisines of the world, providing an important source of protein in many cuisines around the world, especially in the countries with coastal areas.
In the Japanese cuisine, chefs often use shellfish and their roe in different dishes.
Sushi features both raw and cooked shellfish. The word “sushi” actually refers to rice that has been seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and salt, and contrary to popular belief, Sushi does not mean raw fish at all. The concept of modern day sushi was invented in Japan by Hanaya Yohei in the early 19th century.
Sashimi primarily consists of very fresh raw seafood, sliced into thin pieces. The history of sashimi is somewhat shrouded in mysteries offering many theories on its origins. One says that it dates back to a dish of sliced raw fish and vegetables seasoned with vinegar called “namasu” that was eaten at the Japanese court during the Heian period. Another theory traces the roots of sashimi to the sliced fish that fishermen sold during the Kamakura period (1192 to 1333) as a kind of fast food.
Lobster in particular is a great delicacy in the United States, where families in the Northeast region make them into the centerpiece of a clam bake, usually for special occasions. Lobsters are eaten on much of the East Coast – the American lobster ranges from Newfoundland down to about the Carolinas, but is most often associated with Maine. A typical meal involves boiling the lobster with some slight seasoning and then serving it with drawn butter, baked potato, and corn on the cob.
Crabs are widely eaten by humans, making up 20 percent of all marine crustaceans that are farmed or caught around the world. The most consumed species of crab in the world is the Japanese Blue Crab.
Shrimp is the most popular seafood eaten in the United States. It represents over 25 percent of the nation’s annual per capita seafood consumption. This calculation indicates that the average consumer eats 4 pounds of shrimp per year.
Oyster cultivation was invented by Sergius Orata, a Roman engineer also often credited with the invention of underfloor heating, and since his invention, oyster farming has become big business. Oyster sales boomed from the early 19th century onwards, and the shellfish were sold as street food across London, Paris, and New York as they remained a cheap and accessible snack to many. In 1860, the small British seaside town of Whitstable alone was sending 50 million tons of oysters to London each year, and by 1900, New York was eating 1 million oysters every day.
What most people recognize as a “scallop” is actually the creature’s adductor muscle, which it uses to open and close its shell in order to propel itself through the water. Scallops have lent their name to the culinary term “scalloped”, which originally referred to seafood creamed and served hot in the shell. Today, it means a creamed casserole dish such as scalloped potatoes, which contains no seafood at all.
Within the eastern coast of the United States and large swathes of the Maritimes of Canada, the term “clam” most often refers to the hard clam (Mercenaria mercenaria). It may also refer to a few other common edible species, such as the soft-shell clam, Mya arenaria and the ocean quahog (Arctica islandica). Another species commercially exploited on the Atlantic Coast of the United States is the surf clam Spisula solidissima.
In Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, mussels are consumed with French fries (“mosselen met friet” or “moules-frites”) or bread. In Belgium, mussels are sometimes served with fresh herbs and flavorful vegetables in a stock of butter and white wine. Fries and Belgian beer sometimes are accompaniments. A similar style of preparation is commonly found in the Rhineland where mussels are customly served in restaurants with a side of dark bread in “months containing an R”, that is between September and April.
Fresh shellfish are an excellent source of proteins and a good source of minerals. Most shellfish are low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
The word “shellfish” is both singular and plural – the rarely used “shellfishes” is sometimes employed to distinguish among various types of shellfish.
The Torah forbids the consumption of shellfish,in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Jews who fully observe the dietary laws thus do not eat shellfish. Neither do Seventh-day Adventists, who follow Jewish dietary law.
Islamic schools of thought vary on whether (and which types of) shellfish may be acceptable.