– Chef Dharshan Munidasa
Travel Food and Wine exclusively brings to you Chef Dharshan’s insights on seafood.
Who hasn’t seen or heard Hippocrates’ famous quote about letting food be your medicine and your medicine your food? The health benefit of seafood is becoming well-known now. There is no better time than summer to savor delicious, straight from the market seafood. Whether you pull up a stool for a dozen of fresh clams or a lobster roll at buzzing seafood restaurants, sit down for a redefined dinner for a shrimp cocktail. Like fruits and veggies, seafood tastes much better when it is fresh! Travel Food and Wine offers some practical advice for delicious, sustainable meals that will nourish body and soul. We are here with such filled to the gills succulent seafood recipes, tips, and benefits of serving best meat without feet.
From the beginning of history, fish became an inseparable part of human life in India. Over the course of time, fish proved to be the food of high nutritional value through empirical observation. The practice of casting a fish motif on coins, stone sculptures and seals, or using fish insignia in flags by rulers in medieval India as a symbol of fortune and an object in literature and folk songs, prove that fish transcended the narrow limits of cultural segmentation. The cities with an ever-increasing population and changing food habits created an obvious demand for large-scale fish culture in the 20th century. Fish production from natural water bodies trended downward during the later decades of the 20th century. However, the technologies of induced breeding and polyculture virtually revolutionized the freshwater pisciculture sector and Indian fish production registered excellent growth.
A swish of a knife through the air and clamming the claws of crabs Chef Dharshan Munidasa quoted, “I think all water bodies contain some kind of crustacean from Prawns to Lobsters to Crayfish to Crabs and in our oceans, ponds, rivers and lagoons we find many varieties. I would say the crabs are famous from our lagoons – Mannar Basin for Blue Swimmer Crabs. The Oysters that we found naturally are now farmed for us under cleaner conditions and tested rigorously. As a kid, I would go and find shellfish such as clams on the beach and I’ve continued that by teaching my daughter where to find such shellfish and we serve the same clams at our restaurants. Again, no one ever served it before, we found it in the wild and we sourced and controlled the conditions in which it was transported to control the mortality. So, shellfish has always been around Sri Lankan waters. It became relevant and available by our perseverance of getting it to our restaurants in the correct manner.”
Before You Buy Fish or Shellfish
Well, looking at seafood through a glass case and pointing to what you want is a hit-or-miss method while buying. I would suggest that you need to see it up close, touch it and smell it. Let’s browse through some tips on how to check freshness of any seafood:
- Fish and seafood should smell like the sea. Close your eyes and imagine you’re on a beach with a gentle breeze blowing. You can smell the salty air and maybe a hint of seaweed. This is how your fish should smell. If you take a whiff and it makes your nose wrinkle or you think it smells ‘fishy’, it’s probably old. The smell won’t improve with cooking.
- If buying a whole fish, the eyes should be clear and bright and the skin should be shiny and moist with no discoloration. If there are spots on the skin or the eyes are dull and gray, it may still be safe to eat but it is probably past its prime.
- If possible, touch the flesh of the fish; it should be resilient. If a notch from your finger remains, choose something else.
- If you are buying live shellfish the shells should be tightly closed. If one is partly open, tap on it and see if it closes. If not, the animal has probably died. You are likely to have few dead shellfishes while you are buying, however, more than one or two means either they haven’t been stored properly or the whole batch is nearing the end of its useful life. If a shell doesn’t open after cooking, discard it immediately, this is a clear indication that the animal is dead.
- When buying scallops be sure they were caught the day you are buying them, purchase frozen scallops that are labelled ‘dry packed’. Wet-packed scallops have chemical additives designed to retain moisture and plump up the meat.
- Most shrimp are frozen right on the shrimp boats. Unless you’re in a fishing area and you can buy shrimp or prawns caught that day, buy it frozen. That fresh-looking shrimp you see in the seafood department is most likely labelled as previously frozen.
Lobsters grow by shedding their shells (molting) and the soft shell underneath then hardens over a period of about a month. A lobster will shed up to 25 shells by the time it is 5 years old but this will slow down to one every one or two years. Lobsters can live a long time and older lobsters get very big in size. A lobster that is not in pristine condition and has a few barnacles should not be discarded as they usually produce more meat. It is advisable to secure lobsters claws when they are being kept in tanks as they will fight each other and actually eat their fellow lobsters.
Pro tips to prep & clean
- If you have purchased a live lobster, plunge it into boiling water for about 30 seconds and then rinse it under cold water to halt the cooking. Alternatively, set the lobster on a firm surface and securely hold the lobster’s tail with a folded cloth to prevent slipping. Insert the tip of a large chef’s knife straight down through the back of the lobster to the board, piercing the cross mark in the area between the first and second pairs of thin legs.
- Cut the lobsters head in half lengthwise. If desired, hold an uncooked lobster over a bowl to catch the juices. Turn the lobster around, hold its head and cut the rest of the lobster sharply in half.
- Lift away and discard the sand sac near the head. Using the tip of the knife, carefully remove the grey intestinal vein that runs along the lobsters back.
- With a small spoon, scoop out the liver, known as the tomalley, which will be black if uncooked and green if cooked, and any coral, or eggs, which will be black if uncooked and bright red if cooked. Reserve both for sauce as needed.
- For a neater look, cut away the legs and claws. Crack claws in a few places with a lobster cracker or mallet so diners can easily reach the meat inside.
- Before serving cooked lobsters, remove the pale, feathery gills along the sides of the lobster’s body. If desired, loosen the cooked tail meat from its shell for easier eating. Provide diners with lobster picks small two-pronged forks designed specifically for the purpose.
Prawns and shrimps shed their shells much like crabs and lobsters in order to grow. There are thousands of different species of prawn; most of them have a narrow, tapering body, under which the tail is curled, and long, whiskery antennae. When raw, they are blue-grey or, in the case of the smaller varieties, almost translucent. Both species are the same as lobsters and crabs in that they are decapods crustaceans – this means that they have 10 legs and a hard shell. However unlike lobsters and crabs that crawl along the bottom, shrimps and prawns both swim around. They are fished in both the ocean and freshwater, and are farmed as well as wild.
Pro tips to prep & clean
- Prawns can be a pain to clean, but follow our three steps and you’ll have the prawns ready for the bbq, salad or seafood platter in no time.
- To peel prawns, remove the head and legs. Peel the shells from the prawns. Squeeze the tail to remove it from the body, if desired.
- To devein a prawn, use a small sharp knife to make a slit along the middle of the back to expose the dark vein. Pull out the vein.
- To devein a prawn without cutting the back, use your fingers to carefully pull the vein through the opening at the head end to remove.
As with lobsters, crabs also shed their shells in order to grow. The crab is vulnerable while the soft shell is hardening – over a period of about a month. Crabs known as soft shells are those that have just shed their shell. The brown crab is the most common edible crab in waters. Velvet crabs and spider crabs are also caught but most are exported to the other Continents. The brown crab is mainly caught in baited pots. The crab is brown in colour and has black tips on the end of its claws. Crabs can grow up to about 3 kg in weight.
Pro tips to prep & clean
- Lagoons with salty water – Crabs should be kept in Freshwater for a day to reduce the salinity of the crab itself
- Crabs from the ocean – if they’re still alive just serve it as sashimi
- Know the anatomy of the crab, know where the heart is, and know where the stomach is, so when you are cleaning it you can get all these parts out without losing the flavors of the Crab itself.
- Turn the crab and lift its apron like tail and break it.
- Stick your thumb in the hole left in the apron and pull out the carapace. It will come apart showing the guts and gills of the crab. You can clean and preserve the carapace to serve the scooped out crab meat.
- Under running water, take out the guts with your finger. You can also pull out the gills with your hands, leaving aside white or pink flesh, depending on the type of crab you got.
- Take apart the bigger claws and crack them with a big spoon or a ladle. This will make it easy for you to reach the meat once it’s cooked.
- With a strong pair of scissors, cut the abdomen with the meat along the middle.
Clam is a common name for several kinds of bivalve mollusks. The word is often applied only to those that live as infauna, spending most of their lives partially buried in the sand of the ocean floor. In particular, edible infaunal bivalves are often called clams.
Pro tips to prep & clean
- Never select a clam that is already open or chipped, broken, or damaged in any way. Make sure to immediately unwrap them at home, so they can breathe, and store them in a cool area.
- Soak your clams for 20 minutes in freshwater just before cooking. As the clams breathe they filter water. When the fresh water is filtered, the clam pushes salt water and sand out of their shells. After 20 minutes, the clams will have cleaned themselves of much of the salt and sand they have collected. Instead of pouring the clams and water into a strainer, pull the clams out of the water.
- Once the clams have been soaked, use a firm brush and scrub off any additional sand, barnacles, or other oceanic attachments. This is the same final method used when cleaning mussels.
Chef’s hacks on storing seafood
When buying fresh or frozen seafood, try to minimize the time it spends at room temperature. If you have errands to run after stopping at the grocery store, bring a cooler or insulated bag to store it in until you get home.
Fresh fish should be stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator. It is best if eaten as soon as possible after purchasing it. If you are buying it today, eat it today or tomorrow at the latest. If your schedule alters such that you never know when you’ll be home to cook, best option will be buy frozen fish. Most seafood is flash-frozen very soon after it’s been cleaned, and as long as it stays frozen there will be very little degradation in quality and flavor.
Frozen fish and seafood should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight. If you’re pressed for time, put it in a bowl of cool water at room temperature and cook it as soon as it thaws. Live shellfish should also be stored in the refrigerator. Put them in a container that is not airtight because they need air to breathe. Sometimes the fishmonger will wrap your shellfish in a plastic bag and tie a knot so the juices don’t run onto your other groceries. Take them out of the plastic as soon as you get home or they will suffocate.
Cheers to Eco-conscious fish lover
“Early fishing is hampering marine ecosystem”, however, “Eat more fish” has been a mantra for many health experts. Early fishing or extensive fishing is not at all encouraged. When I asked thoughts on being an “eco-conscious fish lover” Chef Dharshan generously quoted, “Any industry has an impact on our environment and we as conscious consumers should have been aware of the impact our food has on our environmental resources. One thing that also needs special attention is the supply chain, how the food comes to us, probably the most efficiently packed way and as much as possible less wastage.
It is a waste of food to go bad during transportation. ‘Eat more fish’ is a great concept and I don’t think that it will directly result in overfishing as long as we are aware of the aquatic resources and manage the distribution so that nothing goes to waste.”
Well, after real insiders about the seafood world, I couldn’t resist asking the conceptualization and the journey of “Ministry of Crab” to which he big heartedly quoted, “On one of my TV shows we dedicated an episode to the Sri Lankan Crab. The first half of the episode was shot in Sri Lanka and the second half in Singapore. When the program aired, one of my friends asked me why I wasn’t doing a crab restaurant and that’s how the idea for Ministry of Crab came about. The name was brought out by me over drinks and then we set out to search for a building that was ministerial enough to house this restaurant. From there we just kept on getting better at what we do. We sourced bigger and better crabs which led us to where we are today. This year we are targeting to open the restaurant overseas as well.”
This time of year is all about eating with friends and eating healthy. During these warmer months, we at Food and Wine India selected few amazing and lip smacking shellfish recipes by Chef DharshanMunidasa which will allow you to relax and spend time with the people you have over and not being trapped in the kitchen. The success to this is finding the right balance between food which can be prepared in advance and fresh food that requires just a flash in the pan. Seafood is a great and healthy choice for grilling as well as cooking. All seafood is low in fat and high in protein; and seafood with more fat (like salmon or tuna) is likely to offer heart-healthy Omega-3’s. This summer liberate your taste buds with colorful salads with the addition of seasonal fruit, a handful of clams or oysters, savoring crab or lobsters flashed in a pan or on the grill.
You will need:
- 1KG Crab
- Sunflower Oil – 4 tbsps
- Onion – 10g
- Garlic – 10g
- Corn flour –3 tbsps.
- Pepper Powder – 2 tsps.
- Pepper Sauce – 700ml
- Clean the crab and cut into 6 pieces.
- Heat 4 tablespoons of sunflower oil in a large pan.
- Add onion and garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Add pepper powder and crab and do a quick stir.
- Add pepper sauce and cook for 15 – 20 minutes.
- Add corn flour to thicken the sauce.
You will need:
- Clams – 250g
- Butter – 10g
- Soy Sauce – To Taste
- Boil clams in water until open.
- Drain and set aside.
- Add onion and garlic and sauté until fragrant.
- Sauté clams in butter on medium heat.
- Add soy sauce.
Garlic Chilli Prawns
You will need:
- 200g – 300g Fresh Water
- Prawn – 1 piece
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – 200 ml
- Chicken Stock – 100ml
- Chilli Flakes – 10g
- Chopped Garlic – 10g
- Soy Sauce – 2 tsp
- Heat olive oil in a large pan.
- Add prawn, chicken stock, garlic and chilli flakes.
- Cook for 10 minutes until chicken stock reduces.
- Stir in soy sauce and serve.
Standing tall in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants since 2015, Chef Dharshan Munidasa is a proud founder of Nihonbashi, Kaema Sutra and Ministry of Crabs in partnership with Sri Lankan cricket legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.