A Guide to Common Crustaceans

Crustaceans are a type of shellfish and include crab, lobster, crawfish and shrimp, among a few others—yes, barnacles are a crustacean but since I’ve yet to meet anyone other than Davy Jones (no, not from the Monkees) who enjoyed eating barnacles, I’n not including them in this guide. Here’s a guide to the more commonly seen types of crustaceans including all you need to know about what makes them tick, if they’re good for your ticker, and how to purchase and prepare at home—oh, and one note … while we live in a great big world where there are many, many fishermen and fisherwomen, many crustaceans are harvested sustainably right off our nation’s shorelines, so please, when at all possible, support those working their butts off to bring us delicious seafood and buy from U.S. suppliers.

drawing_lobster redLOBSTER are found in the North Atlantic all the way down to the Carolinas; the vast majority coming from Canada and New England. Lobster meat has just under 100 calories per serving and is high in protein but lacks omega 3s. Lobster are best broiled, steamed or baked. I always steam lobster: 13-15 minutes for a one to one-and-a-half-pound lobster; 17 to 18 minutes for a two pounder. Purchase live lobster with a curled tail and pick ones that are active in the tank. If you purchase lobster tails, steam one minute for every ounce. So a four-ounce tail, takes four minutes in the pot. As for the tomalley, yes, some people do eat it. I don’t. And I wouldn’t recommend it—tomalley is actually the lobster’s liver and pancreas and therefore, carries with it waste. Bleck! Note, there are warm-water lobster, but the flavor isn’t nearly as good as their northern cousins. I recommend purchasing cold-water Maine lobster whenever possible.

drawing_crawfishCRAWFISH run rapid throughout the U.S. with more than 300 varieties found everywhere from rivers and lakes to smaller tributaries and even swamplands. AKA crawdad and crayfish, they are the smaller cousin to lobster and average 3 to 7 inches. Right around 90 percent of all farmed and wild-caught crawfish come from Louisiana—no wonder crawfish boils are so popular in the South! The nutritional value is similar to lobster as are cooking methods; the most common being boiled in large pots with Creole seasonings. They’re also great in etouffeé and jambalaya. When purchasing for home, they should be active and have a tail that curls when cooked.

There are two generally defined types of shellfish: mollusks and crustaceans

drawing_shrimpSHRIMP not shrimps, not ever. The word “shrimp” itself is both singular and plural so please, don’t ever say “shrimps.” Enough with the grammar lesson, on to the species. There are hundreds of different species of shrimp, both saltwater and freshwater. Here are the more common varieties sold throughout the U.S.—note, the most important thing you can do as a consumer is know where your shrimp shouldn’t come from. Heed the Seafood Watch recommendations and do your best to avoid purchasing shrimp from the “avoid” list.

Gulf shrimp are found up and down the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, to southern Florida, to the Yucatan. Gulf shrimp are not farmed (yet) and can be nearly 10 inches in length from tail to head.
Rock shrimp are much smaller than Gulf shrimp and are best suited for adding to dishes rather than on their own. Great for salads, to top off pizzas, or tossed into salads.
Pink shrimp are found in the north Atlantic, the North Pacific, and in many other waters throughout the continent are about half the size of Gulf shrimp and like rock shrimp, are best suited for add ons rather than a main course.
Black tiger shrimp are the largest of the species and are excellent grilled. Most of the tigers you see in the U.S. come from Asia.
Pacific white shrimp are excellent in shrimp cocktail, or cooked “peel and eat” style. Most everyone who’s ever had shrimp, have eaten this variety as it is the most widely harvested variety in the world.

Crab, lobster and shrimp have twenty body segments contained within two main body parts

CRAB, easily considered a delicacy and special treat for many, crab is one crustacean that most everyone has tried at least once. But, there are many types of crab and not all are created equal. All crab are low in calories, low in fat but omega 3s are nonexistent in the species, but crab is an excellent source of protein and so long as you don’t dunk your crab in too much butter, is a healthy and delicious choice for most everyone’s diet. The most common types of crab are: Dungeness; snow; blue; stone; and king.

Dungeness crab are a West Coast staple and are sold live up and down the coastline—growing up, these are the type of crab we caught as often as we could get out on the boat. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one, boil it for about 20 minutes then immediately dunk into cold water to stop the cooking process.
Snow crab are found in the Bearing Sea and are readily available in the frozen section of most supermarkets—just be sure to look for the blue fish seal from the Marine Stewardship Council before purchasing. Cook as directed on the package, but typically they’re best when steamed pr boiled.
Blue crab are commonly seen in restaurants, sometimes as hard shells, sometimes as soft shells. A soft shell blue crab is one that’s been harvested before molting, hence the softness. Lots of restaurants and pubs fry them and serve them, shell included, in a sandwich. Admittedly, I‘m not a fan … but growing up on the West Coast, this simply wasn’t the type of crab we ate.
Stone crab are caught in south Atlantic and warm Gulf waters. They’re a highly regulated species as legally only the claws can be harvested. Fishermen remove the front two claws, then return the crabs to the water where they regenerate. I’m not a fan of the practice, but from what I’ve been told, it doesn’t harm the crab. Still, with all the other options out there, I’d steer clear of this species.

King crab have six legs, plus one big killer claw and one smaller feeder claw—other species have 10 appendages

drawing_king crab vectorKing crab are probably the most sought after, thanks in part to their flavor, but also to the huge success of the TV show, Deadliest Catch. Caught in the Bearing Sea, this cold-water species can have a leg span of up to six feet—so unlike many smaller crab species, you don’t need many legs to fill up! I’m a big fan of Dungeness crab, but I also love king. They are distinctively different, and I encourage everyone to try both if given the opportunity. When we cook the legs at home, we steam them: put water in a cookie sheet, cover it with a rack on top and place crab legs on the rack. Place in hot oven and let steam for about 20 minutes. Be careful taking it out as the water is boiling. Serve with a little bit of drawn butter and a smile. Enjoy!

Coming up next week on the blog … a guide to sustainable sushi with help from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch followed by a guide to mollusks.

<small>DISCLAIMER: I’m a writer and an editor. And I try my best to make sure every post is articulate and free from errors. However, being that I edit my own work—and it’s next to impossible to properly edit your own work—I admit, occasionally there may be an error or two I miss. But doing so doesn’t make me an idiot so don’t be mean. Just smile, pat yourself on the back for finding an error and be glad you’re not the only one who makes mistakes sometimes … yes, even mermaids slip up every now and then. xoxox </small>

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