The basics: collecting, caring for and cleaning shellfish, cephalopods and crustaceans
Squid- Size limit NSW- Nil, Bag limit NSW- 20 in total (all species)
First, catch squid. Fish over weed beds, using squid jigs, a slow lift and drop retrieve is usually the go, but more on squid fishing in later posts.
So, now you’ve caught the squid, how do you kill it. Well its easy. There are three humane methods. Firstly simply put the squid in an ice slurry made of sea water and ice. The theory here is the cold will dull the squids nerve system and it will shut down and die a painless death. If you don’t buy that logic, you can simply dispatch them by spiking them between the eyes. This will take you straight to the brain and kill them instantly, you’ll know when you hit the brain, the squid will instantly become white (lose colour). The third technique is to simply grab the head and tear it off the body. A bit more gruesome, but also kills them instantly. Once you’ve killed them, store them on ice or in an ice slurry and your laughing.
Cleaning your squids: This is easiest if your squid have been in ice, the guts will become ridgid and easier to deal with. Pull the head from the body, a lot of the guts should come with the head. To clean the head, cut the head in half, remove the mouth and eyes and its done. If your a bit lazy, you can simply cut the tentacles off rather than cleaning the whole head. To clean the body, first pull the flaps off, most of the skin should also come with the flaps. Then remove any remaining skin from the body and the flaps. To finish cleaning the body, it will depend on how you plan to serve your squid as to how you proceed. If you want calamari rings, get in there with your fingers and pull out the pen (the clear rigid “backbone” of the squid) and any remaining guts. Rinse thoroughly and you’re done. If you don’t need calamari rings, you can slice open the body tube and then clean out all the guts its up to you. If you want to tenderize the squid, putting them in the freezer works a treat. A small note, if you manage to get the ink sac in tac, keep it, the ink can be used to colour dishes, such as rissottos and pastas. Well worth a bit of care to try and get it out intact, i think. A a full pictorial run down is here and a video here.
To serve your squid, there are so many delicious recipes, but here are a few favourites, deep fried in a light beer batter or crumbed, fried with chilli, garlic and ginger (and a bit of pawpaw which will tenderize the flesh) or whole tubes stuffed with amazing fillings full of herbs and spices. So many options. I’ll cover a few in depth recipes at a later date.
Octopus Size limit NSW- Nil, Bag limit NSW- 10 in total (all species)
Ok, first catch your octopus. I usually catch them as by catch, but you can set traps etc. Just check local rules and regulations first.
Most people are a little uneasy dealing with an octopus. They can be a bit disconcerting early on. IF your uneasy dealing with them throw them back. If you want to give it a go though, there a few methods for killing them and its not that hard. As with squid, you can throw them in an ice slurry and let them slowly shut down and die, just make sure the lid of the esky is closed. This is the best method for someone who doesn’t want to deal with the tentacles and the grabbing and the curling. For those with a bit more of a gung ho attitude, who don’t mind dealing with occies (like myself), they can be killed by spiking them between the eyes (as with squid they will go white/lose colour when you hit the brain). Or you can grab them by the head, cut it open and turn it inside out, then gut them and cut out the brain and beak. Easier said than done by most, but if you just do it confidently, its actually pretty easy.
Once again. Store them on ice or in an ice slurry. To clean the occy, make an incision in the base of the head, turn it inside out, take out all the guts, cut out the beak and the eyes and your rinse it and your done (photo illustration here and video illustration which isn’t exactly what I do here). To tenderize them, you have a few options. There is the old greek method, grab the head and hit the occy over and over and over and over again on a rock. This will tenderize it. To save your arms you can also bring some salted water to the boil and plunge your octopus into it and immediately take it out, bring the water the boil again and then repeat 5-8 times. The other option is to freeze it, which will do the same job, but with less hands on work.
Cooking: Octopus make great tucker, they go well in stews, on the BBQ and in many other preparations. My favourite is BBQ’ed, to do this, simmer the octopus for 1-2 hours depending on the size. Remove from water and then rinse, this will get rid of the skin etc. Then refrigerate the octopus overnight. Then marinate the octopus in your favourite flavour combination (I like rosmary, lemon rind, salt, oliver oil and pepper and paprika, garlic, lemon rind, salt pepper, oilve oil and parsley, but there are many other great combos) and throw it on the barbie. Done! I’ll write up a whole recipe in the future.
Abalone Size limit NSW- 11.7cm, Bag limit NSW- 2 in total (all species)
For anyone living in the southern half of Australia, abalone are a an absolute delicacy that are easily collected close to shore amongst rock and weeds. Finding them is a bit of an art, they are well camouflaged, so it can take a little while to get your eye in. Look in cracks and crevices and you should start to find them pretty consistently and regularly with a little bit of practice. To prise them of the rocks, you’ll need some sort of implement, a dive knife or similar implement will do the job fine. You don’t strictly need a knife and to be honest, I rarely use one. Given I do most of my diving around Eden and the southern victorian coast around cape patterson, where abalone are abundant, I usually just pry them off with my hands… There is a little bit of an art to it, you cant touch the rock that the abalone is sitting on, it will clamp down onto the rock and be impossible to dislodge, the trick is stealth. Sneak up on your quarry slowly and carefully, then quickly stick your fingers under the lip of the abalone and flick it off. Sounds easy but until you get the hang of it, most will escape, so start off using an implement of some sort. Make sure you carry an abalone measure with you, you can get them free from most tackle stores, to make sure all the abs you catch are above the legal size, and remember to always stick to your bag limit.
Once you have collected your abalone, you have a few options for storing them. They will remain alive for a couple of days in a wet bag in the shade, although you preferably wouldn’t leave them sitting there for that long. You are better of storing them on ice or in the fridge where they will survive a little longer. In either case, I prefer to clean them on the day I catch them, however some prefer to leave them for a day in the fridge or in the shade to let them relax. As long as they are alive when you clean them, they will be perfectly safe to eat. Once you have cleaned them, they will last 3-4 days in the fridge (or you can freeze them)…
Cleaning abalone is a pretty easy process. The shell has a rounded and a jagged edge. Using a small knife, lift the lip of the abalone and use the knife to cut the foot of the abalone from the shell. Go round the jagged side of the shell and you should be able to easily detach the foot from the shell and remove the entire foot, leaving the guts, which are held on the rounded side, within the shell. Then you simply have to remove the mouth and then thoroughly wash the abalone and you’re done. There is no need to remove the black stuff around the lip, many people do, but personally I think its just as tasty as the rest of the foot, so why waste it. A guide to cleaning abalone is here and a video here.
Once you’ve cleaned you abs, your ready to tenderize them. This can be done by hitting them lots and lots with a meat tenderizer, or by simply putting them in the freezer for 24 hours. They are now ready to eat. My preferred methods of preparation are thinly sliced and quickly fried with garlic, chilli and ginger or with butter and sage. They also make great sashimi, sliced in 2-3 mm slices or if you have lots of them, whole abalone burgers (you can cut them in half to make them go a bit further) are an indulgent treat. I’ll post some exact recipes in the future.
Mussels Size limit NSW- Nil, Bag limit NSW- 50 in total
Mussels are great. Collecting them is easy, they grow on pylons, rock outcrops, wharves, buoys and can be easily collected by hand. A few things to note first. DO NOT collect muscles from dirty water, or recently after a flood in the area. Mussels are filter feeders, they will take up whatever is in the water, so if there is fecal matter or other nasties in the water, they will also possibly be in your mussels. The bag limit in NSW is 50, one thing that is important to note is that that is ALL mussels, sometimes there will be tine 3-4mm muscles growing on the big juicy ones you have collected, they will be counted in your bag limit if you are pulled over by fisheries. So be careful to only take the big ones you actually want to eat and to get the little baby muscles out of the bucket.
When storing for your muscles, the important thing is that you keep them alive until you eat them. Like most shellfish, you don’t want to eat ones that have died, they are a real food poisoning risk. In a hession sac in the shade they should stay alive for a day or so, you can alternitively keep them on ice and then in the fridge. Wrapped in a damp cloth or paper towel and they will stay alive for 4-5 days.
Before cooking your mussels, it is important to check they are still fresh and alive. If the mussels are alive, they will shut themselves upon touch if they are open. Its also important to smell all your mussels, given their low body mass, if they do die they will begin to smell off almost immediately. Now personally if any of the mussels smell, I chose to be cautious and toss the lot. If some are dead but don’t smell, i toss the dead ones and still eat the live ones. In some sense, you will rarely run into problems such as this as a fisherman who collects their own mussels, rarely will they be sitting around for days (I usually eat them straight away). The freshness of your mussels is far more a concern when buying mussels from a fish shop, where you don’t know where they are from and how long they have been sitting around out of water. If you are buying them from a fish shop, i recommend making sure they are all fresh and alive when you buy them and eating them the day or the day after you buy them.
To prepare the mussels for cooking, you will first need to scrub them and remove the beard. The beard will be obvious, its a few seaweed looking things sticking out of the shell, that the mussel uses to attach to its surroundings (picture here). Once you cleaned the mussels and removed the beard, you are ready to cook them. There are lots of techniques, you can open them first, throw them in a stew or paella or my personal favourite, gently fry some garlic is some butter, then turn the heat up and add some white wine, your mussels and a generous load of parsley. Put a lid on the the pot and cook them until most of them are open. Done, serve with bread.
Lastly, should you eat unopened mussels? Well the answer is actually yes. Mussel are held together by a few muscles, usually cooking them will denature the muscles or detach them from the shell, meaning that what was holding the mussel together no longer is and they will open. However, about 10-12 percent of mussels wont open under what would be considered “normal” cooking time. This doesn’t meant the mussels are bad, it simply means the muscles that hold them together haven’t denatured or detached from the shell. As long as most of your mussels have opened, these mussels will be perfectly safe to eat. The idea you shouldn’t is a myth. No point throwing away good seafood. In terms of making sure your mussels are safe to eat, all the important stuff comes earlier, before you cook them. Make sure all the mussels you cook are alive and fresh and have been collected from clean water and you they will be safe to eat, even the 10-12% that don’t open once they are cooked. The important thing is having fresh, clean live mussels to begin with.
Oysters Size limit NSW- Nil, Bag limit NSW- 50 in total (all species)
As for mussels, oysters are filter feeders. They will take up anything bad that is in the water. DO NOT EAT oysters directly after rains or from dirty water. They may make you sick. Make sure you collect your oysters from clean fresh water so you are sure they are safe to eat!
Depending on where you are collecting your oysters, there will be different techniques. Some oysters, e.g. oysters firmly planted to rocks, will be impossible to get off whole, your best option is to open them on the rock and get out the meat and eat it immediately or very soon after wards. Others, which you can collect whole, using either a knife or some sort of implement to pry them off the rocks or pylon ca be collected and stored on ice. They will stay alive for up to a week if kept in the fridge in a damp cloth. Like all other shellfish, make sure they are alive before you eat them, a dead oyster will open and won’t be tightly closed and again, will start to smell very soon after dying. To be sure, I try to eat my oysters as soon as possible after collecting them
Once your ready to eat your oysters, shuck them using an oyster knife and a glove to avoid doing any damage to yourself and eat them immediately. Personally, I don’t think you can be a freshly shucked oyster with a small squeeze of lemon juice, but they are also pretty good BBQ’ed or in many other ways.
Now I’ve only eaten these half a dozen times while camping, so have no idea how long they will stay alive out of water. I would imagine its a similar amount of time as oysters and mussels, just make sure they are alive before you eat them if you do chose to store them.
Given they are snails, they are pretty easy to prepare, depending on how you want to cook them. You can crack open the shell, pull out the meat and then sauté them in garlin, butter, salt and a bit of pepper. Otherwise, the less labour intensive method is to simply boil them in salted water for a few minutes. They are actually surprisingly tasty. However, given my inexperience, if you know more about them, preparation, storing and anything else, please add to the comments.
Sea Urchins Size limit NSW- Nil, Bag limit NSW- 10 in total
Ok, sea urchins. A delicacy for many, ignored by most Australians. Firstly take care while collecting urchins. The spines are sharp and brittle, its very easy to get a large bit of urchin spine stuck in your finger, which will then disintegrate into tiny pieces and be impossible to get out without cutting it open. Always WEAR GLOVES!
Once you have collected your urchins, the next part is to get out the orange/yellow row, which is the only edible bit, this involves cutting them open. This again requires gloves to avoid spiking. I like to use a chefs knife, pierce the top and then quickly cut the urchin in half. It takes a bit of practice to end up with two clean halves, with very little shell in your roe. Once you’ve opened your urchin, remove the gonads/roe which will be yellow/orange and discard the rest. The roe can be eaten raw, used to flavour pasta sauces, mixed with olive oil, a bit of lemon juice salt and pepper and used as a dip, used to flavour eggs and many many other things. To be honest, its an acquired taste, you may not like it, but its worth a try right?
Crabs Mud crab- Size limit NSW- 8.5cm, Bag limit NSW- 5 in total, Blue swimmer crab- Size limit NSW- 6cm, Bag limit NSW- 20 in total, All other crabs- Size limit NSW- Nil, Bag limit NSW- 10 in total (all species). All crabs carrying eggs MUST be returned to the water!
The most commonly eaten crab species in Australia are mud crabs, blue swimmer crabs and sand crabs. They can be collected using traps, by wandering around the mangroves with some wire or in the case of sand crabs, by accidentally catching them off the beach. We will cover more on collecting crabs in later installments, as this post is getting pretty long.
Once you have your crabs, use some string to tie the pincers to the crab (only really important on mud crabs). Crabs should stay alive out of water for a few days (how long depends on the species, Mud crabs for example will live for more than a week if cared for correctly) if kept cool and your best of keeping them live till you cook them. When it comes to cooking them, the best way to kill them is to put them in the freezer for 30-45 mins to shut them down (you don’t want to freeze them!). Then either cut them in half, give them a good whack on the top of the shell with a knife (should render them unconscious) or drop them in boiling water or hot oil to kill them.
Now your cooking or are ready to cook your crab. There are so many options, boiling, deep frying, steamed, grilled, BBQ’ed, stir fried. The method you pick will depend on the kind of dish you want to serve and the flavours you want to use. I’ll cover a few recipes in later posts.
Cleaning your crab- this can be done before or after you cook your crab, depending on how you chose to cook and kill it. If you kill your crab before cooking it, you are best to clean it fresh. If you want to keep the top shell to serve you dish, knock the crab out and remove the shell then cut the crab in half (here). You want to remove the gills, the head poo and the poo of the crab, which are the inedible bits. This is the method you want to use if you are going to be stir frying or BBQ’ing your crab. There are numerous little tweaks, used by different people (cutting in half straight up, cutting in half from the underside to keep the top shell in tac etc etc.). The important thing is to kill your crab quickly and efficiently so it does not have to needlessly suffer.
Most people will however, clean their crabs after cooking. To do this first cook your crab in hot oil or boiling water, remove the crab once its cooked and place in some ice water to stop the cooking process. Then remove the carapace (the big top shell of the crab) by pulling up and the back. Then cut the crab in two and remove the gills, poo and head poo from your crab, as well as the legs and claws. Then proceed to extract all the delicious meat from the body, legs and claws, or depending how you are serving it, give the claws to your guests and let them do the hard work. It takes a bit of practice to become good at removing the meat, and really there isn’t a huge amount i can tell you about tricks and techniques. Once you get the hang of it it should take no longer than a couple of minutes to recover all the crab meat.
You now have your own delicious crab dinner.
Lobster Eastern rock lobster- Size limit NSW- Min 10.4 cm- max 18cm, Bag limit NSW- 2 in total, Southern rock lobster- Size limit NSW- Male- 11cm, Female- 10.4cm, Bag limit NSW- 2 in total, All other lobster species in NSW, bag limit 2, no size limit.
Delicacy apparently. They are delightful, but I’ve eaten them so often on camping trips, that I suppose the “allure” of rich mans food has worn off a bit. They are wonderful tucker though.
Anyway, catching the damned things. You’ve got a few options. Snorkelling, either through kelp beds for lobsters sitting in amongst the weed, or into cracks and caves with a light looking for lobsters that are chilling out, which is both exhilarating and a little bit scary at times. A glove is handy, as is piece of wire to maneuver them out of the cracks. If getting in the water isn’t your thing use a lobster pot.
Once you have caught you lobsters, again they will stay alive if they are kept cool for up to a 4 or so days (although I find it very hard to believe anyone will keep them sitting around that long, they usually go straight from the ocean to the pot). Make sure you keep them cool. Once your ready to cook them, put them in the freezer for 30-45 minutes then into boiling water or use a knife and make a cut up the middle of the head to kill it.
Cooking them, either in boiling water or remove the tail fresh and BBQ, grill or fry it. Its important you don’t over cook the flesh as it will become dry and will lose the sweetness, juicyness and deliciousness. Done!
Yabbies Size limit NSW- Nil, Bag limit NSW- 200, Murray crayfish- Size limit NSW- 9cm, Bag limit NSW- 5 only one over 12cm.
Well, the only freshwater species I will cover here. To catch them a yabbie trap is the easiest way, put some meat in it and leave it in a likely dam or quite bit of a river and come back in a few hours or the next day, you should catch loads of yabbies. If your a bit more hands on or have kids, the most fun way is a piece of meat tied to a string, throw it into the water, wait for a yabbie to start grabbing at it then slowly pull the string towards the bank, when you can see it, either net it or grab it by hand (dangerous, but more fun). This technique works best if you put the meat in a piece of old stocking, the yabbies with get their claws caught in it and will find it hard to let go and escape when they realise they have been had. While it may seem labour intensive, you can easily collect 50+ yabbies in a couple of hours using this method and its actually a whole load of fun!
Once you have your yabbies, like most things covered here, keep them alive until you plan to cook them. In a damp hessian sac they will survive about a week in the fridge. Once you are ready to cook them, your killing methods are very similar to the ones mentioned above, freezer and then boiling water or a knife to the head. To cook them, boil them in salted water and they will be great. Some people prefer to simply do the tails alone or throw the tails on the BBQ, its up to you!
Well I think that is enough for now. I haven’t covered any group in great detail, this is really just a very rough guide to start things off covering the basics of dealing with each group, not specific methods or detailed information on collecting certain species. We will cover some of the groups above in more detail as well as add a bunch of recipes for lots of the species listed above at a later date. Hopefully for now, this gives you a general idea of how to look after, kill and care for a number of commonly caught species. Good luck catching and collecting the above delicacies in the future! And if you have nay feedback please leave it in the comments.
Thanks for reading
Hamish (June 2011)