Our guide to cooking with shellfish

Crustacean and molluscs are often underutilised in British cuisine despite being relatively easy to obtain and cook. Shellfish are rich in flavour and can accompany a variety of dishes. To help get you get inspired we have compiled a quick guide to cooking with shellfish.


As always, ensure you are selecting produce that is in season and from a trusted supplier.  The general rule is to only buy fresh shellfish in the months that include an ‘R’, particularly oysters which are vulnerable to absorbing toxins found in the sea during the warmer months. The shellfish in season at the moment include; clams, crab, mussels, oysters, prawns, shrimp, squid, whelks, winkles.

The freshness is key with shellfish; in fact, so fresh most ‘shell on’ varieties should be purchase while still alive. When tapped, alive clams and mussels should react by tightening their shells and with lobsters and crabs movement should be visible in the legs. If you would like more hints on making sure you are buying the freshest seafood, click here to read our previous blog.


It is important that shellfish is washed thoroughly before cooking. You should start by leaving the shellfish in a bowl of cold water for around 20 minutes to ensure any sand is removed from the shells before scrubbing each with a hard brush.

When preparing molluscs such as clams, oysters and mussels, you should go through and check that the shellfish is still alive, discarding any that does not react to touch, is already open before cooking or has a broken or damaged shell. You should also remove any threads or beards, which emerge from the shell, this can be done by giving them a good tug towards the base of the shell.

Crustaceans such as lobsters and crabs require little preparation aside from rinsing as they are cooked intact.  If you are not cooking your shrimp or prawn whole then you need to peel away the shell this is done by removing the head with a sharp twist before pulling away the shell starting from the head and working down. You will then need to remove the dark vein that runs down the back, this is done by lifting it away using the tip of a sharp knife.


The versatility of shellfish means that most can be boiled, steamed, fried or grilled depending on your taste and the recipe you are following. Our head chef, Marcus has told us about one of his favourite ways to cook shellfish in a moules marinière with cream, onion, garlic and parsley. Click here to follow the recipe.