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  • The story of shellfish Print Page
  • The story of shellfish

    Irish shellfish – so highly prized on top menus worldwide today – was once considered a poor man’s food (‘bia bocht’), its abundance and accessibility to all along low-tide coastal shores giving it the moniker of ‘cnuasach mara’ (‘sea pickings’).

    Archaeological remains show that shellfish such as oysters, cockles, limpets, winkles, dog whelks and razorfish were consumed for thousands of years; while oral history records a roaring trade in cockles and mussels – alive, alive oh! – as well as oysters. Limpets and periwinkles were regularly collected in coastal regions, often being gathered for personal consumption along with seaweed being harvested for fertiliser.

    As in Britain, oysters were such a cheap and plentiful source of protein during the Industrial Revolution that native beds became over-fished. Supplementary beds were established in north Dublin to meet demand. Meanwhile, the dining tables of more prosperous houses, enjoyed harder-to-catch shellfish such as crab, shrimp, lobster and scallops.

    Trio of Dingle Bay brown crab: Crab & apple salad, crab pâté and a crab bisque

    Trio of Dingle crab

    Crab salad

    Quantity Ingredients
    500g crab meat, from two whole fresh crabs
    1 apple (Granny Smith or a similar variety)
    1 stick celery
    1 small bunch of fresh chives and fennel
    2 - 3 tbsp rapeseed mayonnaise
    1 lemon, juiced
      Salt and pepper
    1. Make the mayonnaise as normal, but use Irish rapeseed oil.

    2. Finely dice the apple, celery and herbs. Mix all of the ingredients together, and season.

    Crab pâté

    Quantity Ingredients
    300g crab meat, including brown meat and liquid from the shells
    1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
    75g butter
    100ml cream
    1 shallot, chopped
    20ml port
      Salt and pepper
    1. Sweat the shallots and add the port, cook until port has reduced leaving only the shallots.

    2. Put the shallots in a blender and add all other ingredients (except salt and pepper).

    3. Pass through a sieve and season well.

    4. Put pâté in ramekins with melted clarified butter on top.

    Crab bisque

    Quantity Ingredients
    2 bodies of leftover picked crabs
    1 white onion
    2 carrots
    1 leek
    1 stick celery
    1 bunch of herbs such as thyme or tarragon
    2 bay leaves
    2 tbsp tomato purée
    ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
    1 tbsp mustard
    100ml white wine
    50ml brandy
    1. Sweat the onions, leeks, carrots and celery. 

    2. Stir in tomato purée, mustard and cayenne pepper, and cook for a few minutes. 

    3. Smash crab shells in muslin cloth and tie to seal, and add to the pot. Turn the heat up, add the brandy and allow the alcohol to burn off, add the white wine. 

    4. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 1 hour.

    5. Remove the muslin cloth bag with the bodies and drain well into the pot.

    6. Blend the bisque, add the cream, strain and season well.

    Did You Know?

    ...that the brown crab is the most common crab eaten in Ireland. It's known for its sweetness and succulent flavour, if you choose a female crab you find it has more sweetness than the male, however the male will provide more white meat.

    230x100 Mark-Murphy Original

    Find out more about the creator of this delicious recipe.

    Read more about Food Champion Mark Murphy

    This recipe is an example of the incredible produce we have available to us from our seas. It demonstrates how to use every bit of the crab ensuring there is no waste. Crab can lend to different tastes and textures depending how you cook it.

    Mark Murphy
    The Roast House, Co Kerry