Seafood: Delicacies for festive Christmas and New Year cuisine
Munich - In Germany, seafood is regarded as a delicacy and is particularly popular on occasions where special or luxury foods are the order of the day, such as Christmas or New Year. The food experts at TÜV SÜD have tips on using these often costly raw materials, and provide information on quality.
Today's cuisine generally categorises foods from rivers, lakes and oceans as ‘seafood’, while ‘shellfish’ exclusively designates crustaceans and molluscs, such as prawns, shrimps, langoustes (rock lobster), salt-water scampi or freshwater crayfish as well as some freshwater species of prawns and shrimps. Given their high prices, they rarely feature on day-to-day menus but are currently enjoying enormous popularity as choices for celebration meals. TÜV SÜD expert Dr Andreas Daxenberger explains what to look out for especially when buying and preparing seafood.
Most forms of seafood should be prepared as simply as possible to ensure the delicate flavour is preserved. Observe the cooking times given on packaging, as the delicate flesh can quickly become rubbery and tough.
Fresh bivalves are sold alive. Their shells should be closed, or close when tapped lightly, and the halves of the shell must not slide apart when closed. When buying oysters, choose firm-looking flesh surrounded by a clear liquid with a pleasant fresh smell.
Mussels are generally sold ready cleaned in modified-atmosphere packaging and can be found in chiller cabinets. When removed from the package, the mussels should open slightly but close again after being rinsed in cold water or tapped lightly. Mussels with damaged or open shells must be discarded before cooking. They open during the cooking process; any that are still closed when they come out of the pot should likewise be discarded.
Because the ‘sand vein’ (digestive tract) of fresh crustaceans contains a high proportion of bitter substances, they must be deveined before cooking. If this is too much trouble, go for frozen products instead.
When cooked, crustaceans can be kept for no more than one day in the refrigerator; they will keep for around one month in the deep-freeze. Squid is an exception and can be frozen for up to three months. Otherwise, note the storage times and temperatures given on the packaging.
A golden rule for buying fresh seafood is always to examine the appearance and smell of the products; fresh seafood has a pleasant scent and should never have a strong smell. The packaging of frozen products should always be completely free from signs of ice crystals or frost formation, showing that the cold chain is unbroken. An insulated bag is always recommended for transporting frozen foods home after purchase!
All types of seafood are excellent sources of protein and are generally low in fat. Their meat contains high levels of Vitamin B12; salt-water species are also rich in iodine. At around 140 mg/100g, prawns and freshwater crayfish have around twice as much cholesterol as medium-fat meat or cheese. As sensitive people may experience allergic reactions to seafood in general and crustaceans in particular, care should be taken in planning menus. Checking with guests beforehand is wise, especially if people whose tastes are unknown have been invited to a festive meal.
Prawns are among the world's most popular seafood. They are generally found in Germany as deep-frozen products, immediately frozen when caught. It is useful to note that they are generally classified by size or weight. For prawns complete with head, the figure 16/20 means that 16 to 20 prawns make up 1 kg; headless prawns are classified using the British pound, equivalent to 545 g. The lower the figure, the larger the prawns; larger prawns have a higher proportion of meat to shell and are thus more expensive. Prawns can be prepared with or without their shells; fried in garlic oil, they make a simple but delicious accompaniment to rice or pasta.
Lobster is considered the most highly prized of all crustaceans. As European stocks are heavily overfished, the majority of lobsters sold are American lobsters (Homarus americanus). When buying live lobster, it is important to check that the animal moves its claws and legs vigorously when picked up as proof that it is really fresh. Lobster is also available deep-frozen, in tins or as lobster paste. After cooking, steaming or grilling, it can be eaten cold or hot and is frequently served with garlic butter or mayonnaise. However, these are by no means the only types of shellfish available in supermarkets; freshwater crayfish, crab and Pacific crab are increasing in popularity and are delicious when teamed with avocados. Kamaboko or surimi are often favoured as substitutes for crab or prawn meat. They are composed of fish protein produced from white fish, dyed, combined with flavourings, monosodium glutamate, starch and egg white and moulded into long sticks or prawn shapes. The prawn substitute variety is made up of long fibres of equal length. Both products have their origins in 14th-century traditional Japanese cuisine and are manufactured from processed fish. They can be compared to Western processed meats such as luncheon meat, which are produced from meat with various other ingredients.
Mussels, squid and gastropods (sea snails) are rich in protein and minerals but low in fat and cholesterol. All molluscs are typical winter delicacies. Some molluscs, such as oysters and scallops, are particularly highly prized when eaten raw. In fact, 80% of oysters – the ‘king of molluscs’ – are eaten in this form. Enjoyed with a squeeze of lemon juice and accompanied by a glass of champagne, oysters are regarded as the ultimate in luxury delicacies.
The popularity of algae and seaweed is growing as protein sources of the future that are also low in fat and high in iodine and calcium. Germany was introduced to these “sea vegetables” via Asian cuisine. Nori seaweed is particularly essential as a stable wrapping for maki sushi. Dried and pressed into paper-thin sheets, nori is now readily available from many major supermarkets.
Purchasing seafood is based on trust, because only top-quality produce can guarantee full enjoyment. TÜV SÜD's experts thus track these foods along the entire transport chain from the point of catch to the supermarket shelf, with the aim of ensuring that customers all over the world are offered consistently high supply quality with respect to food safety. TÜV SÜD's specialists already inspect fish and seafood all over the world to check their compliance with uniform standards.
For more information on TÜV SÜD, see http://www.tuev-sued.de/management_systems/food_safety.