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Keeping Live Shellfish Alive


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#1 Prawncrackers

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 04:14 AM

The wholesale fish market here in Brum is absolutely the best place to buy live shellfish in bulk and is always busiest on a Thursday morning, that's when I usually go. Sometimes I go on Friday but am always disappointed with the selection. Saturday is even quieter than Friday - I am reliably informed.

My dilemma is this; Chinese New Year is on a Monday this Year so we're going to have a family gathering on the Saturday. I've not been asked yet but I'm sure that I will be tasked to go to the market. I'm thinking that we will need at least four or five lobsters, dozen razor clams and scallops in the shell - all live. I'm convinced that I will need to get these Thursday morning, so the question is how to keep all this seafood alive and fresh till Saturday afternoon?

#2 Magictofu

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 05:23 AM

Unless you have a cold sea water aquarium, I think your best bet is in the fridge, on ice (temp close to 0C but not bellow and a source of humidity). Make sure that the water from the melting ice does not drown your lobster or clams (empty it frequently).

Also, leave the bag open so that some oxygen is available.

I kept lobster alive for a couple of days (not 4) this way and mussels a bit longer.

#3 johnnyd

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 06:46 AM

How about parboiling the lobster?

Shucked scallops keep very well for a few days but I don't know about in-the-shell. State law here in Maine says no live scallops are allowed to be landed because the innards decay too quickly and start to release toxins. All scallops are therefore shucked at sea.

I think three days is pushing it. If you have a cooler, fill with ice and arrange a tray on top so that the meltwater does not touch the shellfish. Then hope for the best. I've kept oysters like this for five days.

You could also buy them Thursday and tip a couple quid to have them kept aside at the market.

Edited by johnnyd, 16 January 2009 - 06:47 AM.

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#4 Prawncrackers

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 08:05 AM

Johnnyd, I'd rather not parboil the lobsters first as the classic Cantonese way of cooking them would be to chop them up still wriggling then deep-fry the pieces straightaway. The general consensus on-line is that lobsters will be okay for a couple of days somewhere damp, dark and cold. So I think my worries have been eased regarding that.

But now you've got me worried about the scallops! I think I will clean them up on day one, I'll remove the skirt but will the coral keep?

What about the razor clams? Do you think the damp, dark and cold regime will be okay too - are they best kept flat or standing, does anyone have such arcane knowledge?!

#5 Magictofu

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 09:13 AM

Don't know about the position of razor clams but since these can live outside the water for a while, I assume the damp (not wet), dark and (very cold) regime should work. Mussels and some clams stay alive surprisingly long (don't know enough about razor clams though).

#6 Renn

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 09:24 AM

Lobsters like being under wet newspaper with ice/an ice pack on top. Don't know how many days they'll stay alive in this condition, but it's definitely better than keeping directly in ice or fresh water.

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#7 johnnyd

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 10:50 AM

Something I do here on the Maine coast to keep shellfish is rip a few handfuls of rock weed from the tideline and wrap them within. Seaweed retains ocean water and nutrients that the animals will recognize as their own environment - thus they stay happier a little longer.

Maybe your fishmonger has some?
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#8 SeanDirty

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Posted 16 January 2009 - 11:14 AM

Ok, from a purveyors point of view.

The way that works best is to take a damp CLOTH and cover your shellfish, if you have some seaweed great, put that under your critters.

DO NOT place ice or ice packs directly onto or above newspaper, as it can put unnecessary stress on your lobsters and some shellfish... So Damp cloth in a proliferated pan.

If you have a market as you say, alot of times they will have boxes that the prefillet fish comes in, eg tilapia boxes, catfish boxes. Ask for the Styrofoam boxes, poke a few holes up top,

It should go Seaweed, critters, damp cloth (remoisten) and lid with holes.
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#9 budrichard

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Posted 17 January 2009 - 05:04 AM

The short answer is you don't. Shellfish and lobsters exist in a cold salt water environment. Once removed, they start to die and then decay. Put a live lobster on ice, not in ice but on ice and monitor it day to day. after one day, it may revive, after two days, it is definately dead as the claws and tail will droop and will not revieve as it warms up.
The scallops if shucked along with the mantle and row will keep for 2 days.
Razor clams I don't know.
We had a similar choice this year as Xmas and News Years each fell on Thursdays and by Sunday the big stores were all sold out of product so there was really nothing to purchase on Wednesday so we did without.-Dick

#10 RedRum

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Posted 20 January 2009 - 07:35 AM

My uncle is a fishmonger with his own fishing boat and confirms that this is the best way to keep shellfish alive. Put them in a container, preferably with the bottom being seaweed. Cover them with damp (not wet) cloth and put them in the fridge. re-damp the cloth every 12-24 hours. Should keep oysters, clams, mussles alive for 2-3 days. Keep the lobster in a different container.

Edited by RedRum, 20 January 2009 - 07:36 AM.


#11 RedRum

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Posted 20 January 2009 - 07:37 AM

Ok, from a purveyors point of view. 

The way that works best is to take a damp CLOTH and cover your shellfish, if you have some seaweed great, put that under your critters. 

DO NOT place ice or ice packs directly onto or above newspaper, as it can put unnecessary stress on your lobsters and some shellfish... So Damp cloth in a proliferated pan. 

If you have a market as you say, alot of times they will have boxes that the prefillet fish comes in, eg tilapia boxes, catfish boxes.  Ask for the Styrofoam boxes, poke a few holes up top,

It should go Seaweed, critters, damp cloth (remoisten) and lid with holes.

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I meant this way...

#12 edwardsboi

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 10:59 AM

I think three days is pushing it.  If you have a cooler, fill with ice and arrange a tray on top so that the meltwater does not touch the shellfish. 

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Why not?

Lobsters and shellfish live in water, right? So, I've never understood why we couldn't store them in water.

#13 edwardsboi

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 10:59 AM

Lobsters like being under wet newspaper with ice/an ice pack on top. 



What's the difference between damp and wet, and why is one better than the other?

#14 budrichard

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 04:08 PM

I think three days is pushing it.  If you have a cooler, fill with ice and arrange a tray on top so that the meltwater does not touch the shellfish.  

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Why not?

Lobsters and shellfish live in water, right? So, I've never understood why we couldn't store them in water.

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Lobster gills take oxygen out of a salt water solution and to a certain extant if places in air there is some transfer but put a llobster in freash water and it will sufficate and put it in chlorinated water and you will actuall sufficate and poison it.
I never forget telling an office mate about a maine lobster sale. On Monday he came in and said that his lobsters had died whem he hadd them at his home. I asked him how he had stored them. He said "I put them in the tub with some water(his water was City water).-Dick

#15 Hiroyuki

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 04:42 PM

As for lobsters, prawns, and crabs, the Japanese way is to put them in a box of saw dust. This keeps them alive for 2-3 days.
Images of prawns, crabs, and others stored in saw dust

#16 Prawncrackers

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 04:56 PM

I've always wondered about that as i've seen very expensive shellfish like snow crab at Tsuikiji being stored that way. It obviously works but any idea what the rationale is behind it? I don't recall seeing shellfish stored in sawdust in any other country.

Anyway i don't think i'll risk keeping scallops or razor clams but am happy that the lobsters should be okay for a few days. Will report back.

#17 Hiroyuki

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Posted 21 January 2009 - 05:16 PM

I've always wondered about that as i've seen very expensive shellfish like snow crab at Tsuikiji being stored that way.  It obviously works but any idea what the rationale is behind it?  I don't recall seeing shellfish stored in sawdust in any other country.

Anyway i don't think i'll risk keeping scallops or razor clams but am happy that the lobsters should be okay for a few days.  Will report back.

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Saw dust keeps the gills of these creatures moist, so that they can continue gill respiration. It also makes them lay still. Any other materials should be OK if it serves the same purpose, but saw dust is a material of choice because it is readily available, inexpensive, light in weight (consider the transportation cost!), and can be easily disposed of after it reaches the destination.

#18 edwardsboi

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 12:20 PM

Lobster gills take oxygen out of a salt water solution and to a certain extant if places in air there is some transfer but put a llobster in freash water and it will sufficate and put it in chlorinated water and you will actuall sufficate and poison it.
I never forget telling an office mate about a maine lobster sale. On Monday he came in and said that his lobsters had died whem he hadd them at his home. I asked him how he had stored them. He said "I put them in the tub with some water(his water was City water).-Dick

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So, what if I used filtered or bottled water, with no chlorine in it, and then added some salt to it. Could the lobster survive in that environment?

#19 edwardsboi

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 12:25 PM

The wholesale fish market here in Brum is absolutely the best place to buy live shellfish in bulk and is always busiest on a Thursday morning, that's when I usually go.  Sometimes I go on Friday but am always disappointed with the selection.  Saturday is even quieter than Friday - I am reliably informed. 


How do you pick out the best shellfish? What are you looking for? For me, it doesn't seem to matter how many shellfish there are or how busy it is because I tend to pick out the worst one possible.

I've been buying Dungenese crabs from the same place over the past month or so, always trying to pick out the liveliest and heavy for its size crab. But, one week, the crabs will be sweet and the next week they won't be sweet. Its just so random.

#20 Prawncrackers

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Posted 22 January 2009 - 12:41 PM

Well, i picked up four lobsters this morning. There were three stalls stocking them with up to about 50-60 available in total so i had a good selection to choose from. The way i pick them is always to handle them and see if they are lively, they should splay their limbs and arch their tails. Also i give the heads a good pinch, it should be very firm with no give at all. Crabs are the same the shells should be rock hard - especially the underside. Maybe you are picking a male crab one week and female the next (supposedly sweeter).

#21 budrichard

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 09:19 AM

Lobster gills take oxygen out of a salt water solution and to a certain extant if places in air there is some transfer but put a llobster in freash water and it will sufficate and put it in chlorinated water and you will actuall sufficate and poison it.
I never forget telling an office mate about a maine lobster sale. On Monday he came in and said that his lobsters had died whem he hadd them at his home. I asked him how he had stored them. He said "I put them in the tub with some water(his water was City water).-Dick

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So, what if I used filtered or bottled water, with no chlorine in it, and then added some salt to it. Could the lobster survive in that environment?

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If you use regular table salt which contains iodine, you will kill them.
For the rest, I never keep them long enough to need to do that. I suppose you could go to an exotic pet store, purchase an aquarium with what's needed to keep salt water fish alive and try it!-Dick.

#22 savvysearch

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 10:32 AM

What's going to taste better? A lobster frozen at the peak of freshness, or one that was alive before cooking it, but has been on the brink of death for 3 days?

#23 gperls

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 06:07 AM

What's going to taste better? A lobster frozen at the peak of freshness, or one that was alive before cooking it, but has been on the brink of death for 3 days?

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I bought a frozen lobster from Whole Foods once. Its meat was like mush. It was real bad. I won't do that again.

On the other hand, lobster tails always come to my part of the country frozen; it's the only way to buy them, and they seem fine.

I'm not an expert, but I recall reading that once a lobster is dead, it releases an enzyme that immediately breaks down it's muscle, making it mushy. Maybe that happened to my frozen lobster. Or maybe they only freeze the ones that come in from the boats already dead.

#24 Prawncrackers

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 07:13 AM

What's going to taste better? A lobster frozen at the peak of freshness, or one that was alive before cooking it, but has been on the brink of death for 3 days?

That's a tough call, i would say the one that was frozen. But who freezes lobsters at their peak? That would be madness! I've eaten badly kept lobsters that have died and they were not good. The smell was off and the texture was decidedly mushy.

Luckily the ones that i'd bought were just as lively last night when i dispatched them as they were in the market a few days ago. I kept them in the vegetable drawer in the bottom of the fridge with damp cloths under and over them. I would have no hesitation doing the same again as i found little sign of deterioration. Here's a pic of them before and after as the first course of our meal:

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Sorry for the shoddy after pic, as you see folks had started to chow down by the time i'd settled to take the shot!!! :rolleyes:

#25 budrichard

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 10:13 AM

What's going to taste better? A lobster frozen at the peak of freshness, or one that was alive before cooking it, but has been on the brink of death for 3 days?

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When I lived in Boston and spent summers in Maine there seemed to be prohibition about freezing a Maine lobster or selling one that was not alive. Most of what you see frozen as tails are not Maine lobster but a relative species, the rock lobster and of course the front part of the body containing the guts is removed which is not big deal as the Rock lobster does not have claws of a Maine lobster. I have been seeing Maine lobster tails frozen and once in awhile over the years whole Maine lobster frozen. I have to assume that the guts were removed from the whole frozen lobster. I don't purchase these things.
So to answer your question, neither.
Maine lobster should only be cooked and eaten if alive and lively. A drooping Maine lobster if for the trash as you don't know the stage of the decay in the internal organs and a frozen one is already suspect as the internal organs will be decaying as the lobster thaws out.-Dick