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Shellfish1Shellfish are divided into two groups, crustaceans, such as crabs, lobsters and shrimps, which have jointed shells, and molluscs, such as mussels, oysters and scallops. Outside Britain, the division of small and not so small crustaceans into shrimp and prawns is unknown. When these types of fish are imported into this country, some co.fusion can therefore arise concerning the names of these crustaceans. In particular, the various large prawns imported from the Pacific have no precise equivalent in European waters although they may be used in substitution for the Dublin Bay prawn. This itself is now officially labelled scampi.

The crawfish, also know as spiny lobster or rock lobster, should not be confused with the freshwater crayfish. This is a common shellfish in France, but not to be found in Britain.

Fresh mussels are not available in shops between April and August, but this rule does not apply on the Continent. Native oysters can be bought only during those months that are spelt with an 'r' - September to April. This has given rise to a widespread belief that oysters and other molluscs should be eaten only when there is an 'r' in the month. But imported oysters are now available throughout most of the year.


American mollusc now being cultivated in Britain. It is sold live in its shell. Usually served raw like oyster. It may also be cooked like mussels. Also available smoked and tinned. In season all year round, but best in the autumn.


Tiny molluscs with white, fluted shells. Usually sold cooked and shelled. Cockles can be used in fish dishes to replace mussels and oysters. Available all year, but best September to April.


This crustacean is grey-brown when alive, brownish-red when cooked. It is sometimes sold alive, but usually freshly boiled by the fishmonger. Also sold 'dressed', that is prepared ready for eating. The weight of a crab varies from 700 grams to 3.6 kilograms. The claws provide white meat and the shell brown meat. Male crabs have larger claws, and the female crabs often contain edible roes or red coral. Crabs are best when medium-sized and should have both claws attached. When buying crab, shake it lightly, it should feel heavy but with no sound of water inside. Available all year, but best from May to October. Also sold as fresh, frozen or tinned crabmeat.


A crustacean similar to lobster, but heavier, weighing 2.3 to 2.7 kilograms. It lacks the large claws, and all the meat is contained in the tail. The flesh is coarser in texture than lobster meat, but should be prepared in the same way. Sold live or cooked, but in scant supply, and most crawfish tails are sold frozen. Season from April to September.


Crustacean, dark blue when alive and scarlet when boiled. The male lobster is brighter in colour, smaller than the female, but with larger claws. Best at an average weight of 400 to 900 grams. The female has a broader tail and more tender flesh. The female also contains the coral, spawn or eggs, used for lobster butter. Sold live and cooked. When buying lobster, choose a medium-sized one which feels heavy for its size. The tail should spring back when it is straightened out. Avoid lobsters with white shells on their backs as this is a sign of age. Available all year, but best from April to August.


These molluscs with blue-black shells are boiled alive and served in a number of classic sauces. Before cooking, discard any with broken shells and any which do not close when tapped. Mussels are sold by the litre allow 900 ml per person. Season from September to March.


Shellfish8These highly priced molluscs are usually eaten raw, but may also be cooked. Shells should be closed, or shut when tapped. Some gourmets maintain that a raw oyster should be swallowed whole, others that it should be chewed to release the full flavour. Oysters must be absolutely fresh and should be opened just before serving. Allow six for each person. Season from September to April.

Portuguese Oyster - A variety of oyster imported for fattening from Portugal. It is larger than the native oyster, with a more irregular shell, and has less flavour. Available all year, but best in the autumn. Hatching-bred Pacific oysters are now available and may be used instead.


Shellfish9Small, soft-shelled grey crustaceans, the shells of which turns bright red and the flesh pink when boiled. They are usually sold already boiled, with or without their shells. Unshelled they are sold by the litre, and shelled by weight. Available all year round, fresh or frozen.

Dublin Bay Prawn - The largest British prawn, about 10 cm long. It is pale pink with a hard s when alive, pink when boiled. Sold alive or cooked, with or without shells. Also sold frozen. Available all year, but best from May to November.

Pacific Prawn - Even larger than the Dublin Bay prawn, 12.7 to 15 cm long. Pacific prawns are imported and available frozen only, cooked or uncooked.


Native molluscs with white flesh and orange toe. They are enclosed in pinkish-brown shells. They are usually sold opened. Ask the fishmonger to include the deep shells with the order. Look for firm white flesh and bright roe. Suitable for poaching, baking, grilling and for stews. Season from September to March.


Small crustaceans with almost translucent shells which turn brown when boiled. British shrimps are caught mainly in Morecambe Bay and the Solway Firth and are usually sold cooked in their shells. Available all year round. Frozen, shelled shrimps are imported from Greenland. Shrimps are also available tinned and potted.

Pink Shrimps - These have grey shells which turn rosy-pink when boiled. They are less tasty than brown shrimps and usually sold cooked, but unpeeled.


These molluscs are nearly always sold cooked and shelled. They are eaten with vinegar and brown bread. Available all year round, but best from September to February.


Similar to whelks, but smaller. They are sold cooked and shelled. A large pin is needed to remove the cap or scale at the top and to unwind the winkle. Available all year, but best from October to May.


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