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Sea Creatures Are Nifty
Fish and Seafood
Spring Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(1) pages: 29 to 35
Since the article about oysters in Volume 22-1, many more questions have crossed our desk about other creatures of the sea. With them in mind, here is information about the nine most requested swimmers with a small amount of detail about each and a single recipe for each of them. They are: abalone, clams, crabs, cuttlefish, geoduck (which is a huge clam), mussels, octopuses (also known as octopi), squid, and shrimp. Read about them below in alphabetic order.
ABALONE: are also known as ‘ear shells;’ they have long been known to the Chinese. These Haliotidae, their species are Haliotis asinina, are available by the dozens, and there are dozens of species of them. They were very common until fished down, so to speak, they no longer are in huge supply, a fact true now for centuries. Long ago, many kinds did exist and in huge numbers; they were on every continent until in the 19th century. They were wanting in China as the west was already shipping tons of them there and elsewhere.
Adored throughout Asia and not eaten raw hundreds of years ago, these days again many do adore them raw or almost raw, a good thing because abalone flesh toughens when heated even a little bit.
Technically, these are snails with a broad muscular foot, most common in inner and inter-tidal zones. They are herbivores preferring a diet of red or brown algae. Their meat is their foot muscle, their shells are popular for buttons, buckles, inlay, and jewelry. Long ago, they were a valuable food source, a delicacy for the Chinese and other Asians. This was true for the dozens of their species, a frequent diet item for several thousand years.
An ancient and popular Chinese recipe for them is made with oyster sauce, simply known by that name. But their muscle gets tough if cooked for more than a minute, so do be careful and cook with an eye on the second hand of a watch or clock.
CLAMS are bivalves. These molluscs are great from fresh water or sea water. Known as Mollusca bivalvia, many live in sand, others in mud or silt, still others are free-living. There are a few varieties that live but one year, a few others that live for hundreds of years. Most are without a head, they are blind, and almost all are palatable.
Clams filter the water they are found in, and all have a hinge connecting their two similar but not the exact same shaped shells. The largest among them is the Geoduck, botanically called the Panopea abrupta or Panopea generosa; thay are discussed separately below. They are the very largest clams in the world; and they are sand-burrowing.
Most, but not all clams are edible. Some have soft-shells at some times in their life cycle, some almost always have a soft shell, others never do. There are dozens upon dozens of species, a most common one is the Venus verrucosa. Limitless are the ways these molluscs can be prepared. Common thinking says when their shells are broken or when cooked and their shells do not open, do not eat them, just throw them out. Yes, some do say to eat only those that are alive; and this is a wise dictum. They can harbor many bacteria, many not healthy ones. The Chinese adore fresh clams made with eggs, the Taiwanese eat them made this way, some doing so daily, particularly if they live near the coast where they have easy access to them. Many make them the easy way following the recipe below.
CRABS are crustaceans of the Decapoda order. They have a very short tail which is really their abdomen, and they can live on land or in the sea, in fresh and/or salt water, and they have a pair of claws, but only if they are true crabs. Horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, and some others with a crab name are not true crabs. More than eight hundred other species are.
Typically, most but not all crabs walk sideways. There are a few that do walk forwards or backwards, and some only swim where they are going. Males have a narrow triangular abdomen, female abdomens are broader and somewhat rounded in that area. Males attract their mates using chemical, visual, acoustic, or by means of vibrations. The female stores their sperm for a long time until ready to use them to fertilize her eggs.
Fertilized crab eggs are often released with the tide. They find some food, some eat their yolks as food, and many molt several times as they grow larger. This molting or losing their shells happens several times, usually every few months as they begin to grow. The new soft shell hides underneath until the new one hardens; and this can take hours. If not complete, the crab can die. When almost an adult and thereafter, crabs molt only once a year, usually in late summer.
For the most part, crabs feed on algae, but they also can and do eat other plants and animals. Some small numbers do work together to feed and protect their offspring. Clams, crabs, and lobsters are best cooked alive. Some, but not all, research tells us feel no pain when cooking them.
You can feel some pain, and we have when you cut off a claw and it jumps up and bites the hand that chopped it. Therefore, do be very careful when cutting them into pieces. Some recipes require doing that and they can and do react even after you think you have killed, decapitated, or made them into sections when preparing to cook them. The Chinese adore crabs in black bean sauce, in crab soup, and in other recipes. When preparing yours, do not take your eyes off any crab claw until it is in the pot of boiling water for a minute or two.
The Chinese adore many kinds of crabs, be they mitten crabs with claws that look like their name sake, or hairy crabs found in the marketplace tied with green rope in late summer. Both are seen on this page and when making crabs with eggs such as in Crab Fu-yung, a dish where only the meat is featured, or Crabs Stir-fried with Eggs in a delicious omelet that is made adding chicken or another meat, even Crab Stuffed in a Whole Cabbage with some white meat chicken. Selecting only one recipe was difficult for this article because shelled creatures can be great made Chinese style in one of a myriad of ways.
CUTTLEFISH are not fish though some are called Sepiida officinalis and known as inkfish. All of them are edible, the Chinese referring to them as ‘clerks of the god of the sea’ because of their ink. Some call them mak mo foo ben woo chak, and they cook them as they would squid, which are discussed below.
Cuttlefish have eight arms and two tentacles with suckers on them; these secure their prey which are mostly shrimp, crabs, octopi, and others of their own species. In turn, they are attacked and eaten by sharks, fish, seals, crabs, shrimp, and other cuttlefish. Most live about two years, have large brain to body size, and are said to be the most intelligent of all sea invertebrates.
Every species is color blind, has its own distinct shape, and its own specifically shaped cuttle bone. These creatures can and do change their skin color when needed as a camouflaging mechanism when warding off predators. They do not see color and just see light differences. They can make these changes while chasing any predators, even those they remember seeing when they were eggs.
Males challenge and chase on another until one secures a female, usually of the same species. He then deposits sperm into an opening near her mouth. People eat males and females fresh or dried, some as black pasta made with their ink, not all made with cuttlefish ink.
These animals look similar to some squid, particular big fin ones found on reefs, but they do not taste the same. They are more delicate, some say more delicious. Their skin can be sprinkled with pink specks, and with those that are, one can see their backbone inside their bodies. Fresh or dried, the Chinese love cuttlefish in soups and use them that way, and often.
GEODUCK is pronounced ‘gooeyduck.' These large, clam-like molluscs have large long siphons and all or part of them like to burrow in the sand. They cannot completely close their shells, are in the Hiatellidae family, and are also known as 'king clams' and/or 'mud ducks.' Their genus and species, namely Panopea generosa, is but one of their common names, and they are found in many areas of the world. There are many related species, some can weigh as much as twenty pounds, and all are reasonably sedentary and they live at the tide line.
In China, they are a delicacy, used in hot pots, soups, stir-fried in dishes, eaten raw, and they are prized. There, some sell for more that one hundred fifty dollars a pound. In the US, they are a lot less expensive and they have created a multi-million dollar industry, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. That industry began in the 1970s and they are now found in sushi restaurants throughout the US, in Japan, and in Korea. Some believe the geoduck is an aphrodisiac, perhaps because of its long phallic foot. Research does confirm they are rich in zinc and amino acids, both triggering increased levels of sex hormones.
MUSSELS can be black-shelled or dark blue-shelled bivalves from either fresh or salt water. Most are in the Mytilidae family. They are Mytilus edulis and have threads that attach to rocks or other hard surfaces that are called their byssus or beard-like threads. One needs to remove them before cooking, and this is not a simple task.
These animals tend to clump together, and stay attached to rocks even with strong waves. Fertilization of males and females occurs outside the bodies after some months of growth, and they survive if not eaten by starfish, birds, otters, racoons, ducks, geese, and man.
To keep the population large, most mussels are produced at hatcheries, then transferred to appropriate growing areas to to rocks, ropes, or to pilings. If not, they have to fend for themselves. When large enough, man loves them with fries when they are boiled, steamed, roasted, or fried in oil, or when they are eaten by the predators mentioned above.
Mussels should not be eaten raw, if found dead, or in toxic waters, and if cooked and they do not open. Experts suggest not eating them in warm weather if gathered on the west coast of the US, or from fresh water areas, though some do debunk this thinking. Certainly, they should never be eaten if they do not open when cooked for heath reasons, also not eaten if full of sand or exposed to red tide. Most, these days, are from hatcheries, so these problems are no longer an issue.
OCTOPUS are intelligent eight-armed invertebrates with no internal or external skeletal parts other than their hard beak. An Octopoda, several called Octopi, are the same on their right side as on the left sides of their bodies. They can defend themselves against many predators. To many, they look alike, but there are hundreds of species of these sea creatures whose arms do have suction cups. They distinguish themselves from their cuttlefish and squid cousins, though all are cephalopods.
Their life span can be quite short, some only half a year, while others can live as long as five years. What fascinates, is they have three hearts, one pumping blood throughout their bodies, the other two through their gills. Their nervous system is also in more than one place, in the arms and in the rest of its body. Perhaps this is where and why their cleverness comes from. They have been known too play with toys, break into aquariums, and break into boats by breaking into their hold and eating their catch. This often happens if there are crabs in there.
Male octopuses, also called octopi, die a few short months after depositing their sperm into a female. She can live longer, even retain the sperm until her eggs are mature. Then she fertilizes and releases them. She can have up to two hundred thousand fertilized eggs in that fertilization set, and she can accept another male’s sperm with the first fertilized set, though this is rare.
These sea creatures mainly eat worms, crabs, other molluscs, shrimp, and fish, and they have caught and killed a few sharks, but not too many. As to their consumption of shelled sea animals, they will eat them if caught and they are open, or if they drill a hole into the shell if it is closed. If they do that, they secret a poison into the open location from their beaks. Once the animal is dead, they extract the soft body by sucking it out.
All octopi move by jet propulsion or crawling on several appendages at once, or they swim using all three motions at once. They get where they want to go to by using their keen eyesight, sense their body’s orientation, and they can figure out how to get where they want to go.
SHRIMP are many legged sea animals. Some are large in some countries where they can be known as prawns. They are stalk-eyed crustaceans that swim, have narrow tails which are really their abdomens, and they have skinny legs, Some do live up to seven years, other species that live for only a year or two. When alive, they look gray, brown, or translucent, and no matter their color when raw, all turn pink when cooked.
Large sea animals adore shrimp, man does too. They are the most consumed swimming creature in the US and in China, whether caught in the wild or farmed. Somewhat more than half of the world’s shrimp supply is farmed even though shrimp are widespread in almost every waterway. Most swim near the floor of their habitat in fresh or in salt water. More than half of the world’s shrimp supply are found in salt water, and they swim at depths of fifteen thousand feet or thereabouts.
The shells of shrimp are more firm and harder at their head end. The shell behind their head has six segments and five pairs of legs. The first pair are longer and larger than the others and there are almost always eight pairs of them. Many species use their first pair for insemination, some have gills there.
These swimmers have been around at least since the Jurassic period, and there are many thousands of extant species with many extant than in those early days. These days, farmed species exceed those caught in the wild, and there are some twenty different farmed varieties in the current marketplace. About one quarter of them come from Latin America, three-quarters of them come from Asia, and most of these are from China.
All shrimp have low levels of saturated fat, are high in calcium, and high in omega-three fatty acids. Compared to fin fish, they also have low levels of mercury. Quite a few people have shrimp allergies, and the Chinese advise pregnant women not to eat them, but not for that reason. There are other reasons, but we know them not. We have no thoughts as to what their real reasons are. There seem to be many including not to eat them when pregnant but we know not whay.
While prawns can be large, there is no labeling that says they must be. The only know classification we know that exists in the US is their size. For that, medium means twenty-three to thirty shrimp to the pound, large means fifteen to twenty-three shrimp to the pound, and those sold as jumbo means fifteen or fewer shrimp to the pound. We once did purchase a pound of jumbo shrimp and received five of them;n we were not aware of this possibility then.
Chinese and many other Asians like to cook and eat shrimp with their shells on, the veins removed and discarded. They cut through the shell to do that, and they like to suck out the part in the head where they tout the brains are. They tell us that if they do this, they will be smarter.
There are literally many hundreds of shrimp recipes. They use them stir-fried, steamed, boiled, dried and reconstituted, and in other ways including stuffing them into or onto other foods. Selecting one recipe for this article was a challenge, We do plan to do an entire article on ways to use shrimp, scallops, and lobsters in a future issue.
SQUID are creatures that some say, lack food value. That does not stop the Chinese and other Asians from eating and enjoying these animals without no red blood nor any tears, and creatures with no known emotions. There are some Chinese who will not eat them when pregnant because they say their babies could be born with too many appendages. We find that odd because they do eat octopus, cuttlefish, and other many-appendage sea animals. My grandmother had six fingers and six toes on each hand or foot; she said she never heard of this dictum.
World-wide, the squid catch is huge even though there are none in the Black Sea. Reports say that the Japanese eat half of them, the Chinese are right behind them. Not everyone agrees with these figures, but all do agree these Decapodiformes teuthida do squirt a brownish-black liquid which many Asians and Italians try to capture.
Squid species are said to be highly intelligent because they hunt cooperatively, and communicate with each other. They have complex digestive systems, three hearts, and the systemic heart has three chambers. The head end of this sea creature has eight arms and two tentacles, one is for reproductive purposes, all have many suckers.
The eyes of the squid are the largest in the animal kingdom, there are hundreds of squid species, ommastrephidae are usually oceanic, longinidae are usually found nearer the shore. These are two of the largest squid families, many with wide triangular tail sections that look like fins. Several countries refer to squid as calamari which is their name in Italian.
Some people stuff the bodies of squid, others cut them horizontally and cook them as rings. Others cut them into flat pieces, and score them to make them more tender. Almost all their parts are edible, except of course for their beaks. They are high in zinc and manganese, copper, selenium, vitamin B12, and riboflavin. Large fish such as whales salmon and swordfish love to eat them but many squid swim away quickly after dispensing their ink by jet propulsion. This often occurs at night because then they swim closer to the surface. There are some very large squid, smaller ones cook in seconds, bigger ones can need half to an hour of simmering to make them tender.
An upcoming issue will include the most popular sea creatures, namely shrimp, lobsters, and scallops, and there will be other sea creature articles with more than one recipe for each of them, most having about five recipes. Those for this article appear in the same order as they were discussed.
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