Quick, Tasty Recipes for Cooking Shellfish

From Littleneck Clam Chowder to Spicy Seafood Linguine, you can't beat briny bivalves for a delicious meal packed with protein, minerals, and vitamins.

February 24, 2010

This scallop and herb combo takes only 20 minutes to make.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Nutritious oysters, scallops, clams, and mussels are all bivalves—soft-bodied mollusks with two shells hinged together by a strong muscle. Aside from the many minerals and vitamins they offer—more about that in a bit—there's a eco-upside to cooking shellfish on a regular basis. Farmed oysters, farmed bay scallops, farmed and softshell clams, and farmed mussels are all designated Eco-Best by the Environmental Defense Fund. That designation means they're raised in systems that control disease, pollution, and chemical use, or are harvested from healthy, well-managed populations and caught using methods that do little harm to marine life. Most Eco-Best seafood is also low in environmental contaminants.


Cooking shellfish is easy, and finding the best shellfish at the market is easy, too, once you know what to look for. Protein-packed oysters are an excellent source of zinc and vitamin B12, as well as a good source of folic acid, niacin, thiamin, vitamin C, and zinc. Oysters get their specific flavor from the areas where they are grown, and are often named for these places. Fresh oysters will smell clean, like the ocean, and their shells should be tightly closed. You can refrigerate live oysters on a cookie sheet, flat-side up, covered with a damp towel, for about a week; cook them as soon as possible. To shuck oysters, hold the oyster flat-side up with a glove or some paper towels. Insert an oyster knife or can opener (not a sharp knife) into the small opening near the hinge; twist to open. Then slide the knife along the top shell to sever the muscle. Remove the top shell and pick out any grit, or hold the oyster and bottom shell under running water to clean. Refrigerate shucked oysters and eat them the same day they are purchased. Oysters can also be bought frozen or smoked.

Read on to see shopping tips for scallops, clams, and mussels, plus some great shellfish recipes.

Serve up scallops for another great source of protein. They’re also an excellent source of selenium and vitamin B12 and are a good source of magnesium. Quality scallops should smell fresh, not strong and fishy, and be ivory to light pink in color. The shells of fresh, live scallops will be slightly opened, but they’ll close slightly when pinched. Store the scallops in the fridge in a bowl covered with a wet paper towel; consume them that day. You can store well-wrapped frozen scallops in the freezer for up to two months. Thaw frozen scallops overnight in the refrigerator, or for faster thawing, defrost them in the microwave; it will take about 2 to 5 minutes per pound. Since it’s really easy to overcook them, monitor the microwave thawing process carefully so you don't precook the scallops.

Count on clams not only for protein, but also for lots of vitamin B12 and iron. Look for fresh-smelling clams with tightly closed shells. Keep them in a bowl, covered with a damp towel, in the refrigerator for up to a week; cook as soon as possible. You can remove the clams from their shells, wrap them well, and freeze for up to two months. Thaw them like scallops, above.

Make mussels your choice for a big dose of protein, iron, manganese, phosphorus, riboflavin, selenium, and vitamin B12. They also provide folic acid, niacin, thiamin, vitamin C, and zinc. Fresh, good-quality mussels will smell clean and will have tightly closed shells. If the mussel is slightly open, tap it—if it’s healthy, it will close within 30 seconds. Refrigerate mussels in a bowl covered with a damp towel. They’ll keep for up to a week, but should be cooked as soon as possible. You can freeze the mussel meat as you would clam meat, above, for about two months. Thaw frozen mussels in the fridge overnight, or in the microwave using the defrost setting for about 3 to 5 minutes per ½ pound.

What’s really great about these little nutritional wonders? How fast they cook. You can see that for yourself with these easy, classic preparations for oysters, scallops, clams, and mussels from the Rodale Recipe Finder.

#1: Quick Oyster Stew. Already-shucked oysters save time in this creamy stew, which is ready in 30 minutes. Don't forget the oyster crackers!

#2: Baked Scallops with Herbs and White Wine. This simple, classic preparation looks impressive on the table. But it will take you only 20 minutes to put together, making it a great choice for a surprising meal on a busy weeknight.

#3: Littleneck Clam Chowder. In certain parts of the country, clam chowder recipes are like opinions; everybody has one that they're sure is the best. Lean ham and thyme flavor this version.

#4: Garlic and Tomato Mussels. Serve mussels in a delicious white wine, garlic, and tomato broth, a light and zesty dressing that leaves room for their natural flavor. You'll want lots of good bread for sopping up those juices.

#5: Spicy Seafood Linguine. You’ll find a combination of clams and mussels in both this zesty pasta dish and in classic Spanish Paella. For an extra special touch, make the linguine yourself!