Ireland has access to some of the best wild shellfish in the world, which means I can truthfully say that some of my most memorable dining experiences have been enjoyed here at home.
Shellfish is divided into two categories: crustaceans and molluscs. With 52,000 recorded species, the ones that we eat are only the tip of the iceberg. The crustaceans we consume include lobster, crab, shrimp, prawns, crawfish and freshwater crawfish.
My favourite is undoubtedly lobster which, like all shellfish, must be alive when you buy it. Some lobsters and crabs will stay alive for one or two days after being removed from the water if they are stored correctly in seaweed in a fridge in the dark.
Opinion is divided on how to cook it. Some say plunge the lobster into boiling water, others believe it is more humane to kill it first. This is done by inserting the tip of the knife into the back of the shellfish, just behind the head. As lobsters have relatively simple nervous systems, this severs the main nerve, killing the lobster before it enters the cooking water.
I find that the best way to cook lobster is as follows:
1. Put them in fresh water for four hours, then make a court bouillon (see article on fish stocks 07/10/2007) and place lobster in it for one minute before removing and placing in a bath of iced water.
2 . Remove the claws and cook for a further seven minutes in the bouillon before again placing in an ice bath.
3.Remove the tail by placing your forefinger and thumb on either side of the lobster from where the tail begins, and move it from side to side until it is released. Then squeeze the shell to crack it. Remove the flesh in one piece, and the central vein which runs down the back.
4.Crack the claws with the back of a chopping knife, and hit the claw once on each side to crack the shell. Then remove the flesh in one piece with a lobster fork.
5.Make a lobster stock with the shell, then add a bruinoise of vegetables (carrots, leeks and celery cut into 1cm square pieces and blanched for two minutes) to the basic stock.
6.Cut the lobster in half, and season with sea salt and freshly milled pepper. Squeeze a little lemon juice on the lobster, place the flesh on top of the vegetables with the claws, then cover with lobster stock. Cover the dish with a lid and place into an oven at 50 degrees Celsius for seven minutes. Remove and arrange the lobster and the vegetables in a serving bowl, and pour the lobster juice on top.
Next week: prawns and scallops
Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. www.thorntonsrestaurant.com