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Recipes: Brenda Costigan's delicious shell fish dishes


Crab claws in garlic and butter

Crab claws in garlic and butter

Crab claws in garlic and butter

Big bowls of steaming mussels served in their shells, or crab claws swimming in butter and garlic, make for magical summer eating, along with crusty bread to mop up the juices and a glass of chilled white wine to add the finishing touch. To guarantee freshness, it's best to buy live shellfish. This may not appeal to all.

I have a childhood memory of my mother, while on holidays in Donegal, receiving a present of a live lobster, which she cooked in a saucepan of boiling water. We all made a hasty retreat from the kitchen when we heard the scraping from inside the saucepan!

A good fishmonger will cook to order, especially the larger shellfish, like crabs and lobsters. Mussels, which must be live, are easy to cook. It is important to buy your shellfish from a reliable fish counter.


Mussels must be alive. This is easily judged, as the shell will be tightly closed, or, if tapped, it will close tightly. If a mussel doesn't close, throw it away. Also throw out any mussels with broken shells. If some float to the top during cooking, it is okay. After cooking, if any shell does not open, then throw it out. Serves two.

You will need:

Allow ½kg (450g) mussels per person

25-50g (1-2oz) butter

1 small onion, chopped

2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 glass white wine

A fresh bay leaf and sprig of parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crusty bread to mop up the juices, to serve

Wash the mussels well in running water. Pull off any twine-like strings, or beards, as they are known. Using a wide saucepan over a fairly high heat, put in the butter and let it melt. Then quickly add in the chopped onion and garlic, the white wine, the bay leaf, the parsley and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the mussels, and stir well. Cook with the lid on, tossing the mussels occasionally, for about three to five minutes, until all the shells are open. Serve in soup bowls with the tasty juices poured over, and some crusty bread.

Crab claws in garlic and butter

Crab claws are bought already cooked. These delicious buttery, garlicky juices are served with them; the crusty bread will mop up the juices. Delicious finger food. Serves four.

You will need:

50-75ml (2-3floz) olive oil

40-50g (2-3oz) butter

4-5 garlic cloves, crushed

75ml (3floz) white wine or a squeeze of lemon juice

450g (1lb) pre-cooked crab claws

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crusty bread, to serve

Put the olive oil and the butter into a frying pan and gently heat together to melt the butter. Then add the crushed garlic cloves and simmer for a minute or two to soften them. Add the white wine or the lemon juice, whichever you are using. Then add in the pre-cooked crab claws and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir, cooking gently until the crab claws are well heated right through. Serve with the crusty bread.

Prawns a la plancha

A popular Spanish tapas-style dish, which is eaten with one's fingers, preferably in the sunshine, with wine. The prawns can be left whole and in their shells -- some recipes suggest leaving the heads and tails in position but removing the shells from the back of the prawns. In Spain, sucking the juices from the cooked shells is part of the enjoyment. The dish is equally tasty using only shelled prawns, with the little tails on. Serves two to three as a starter.

You will need:

450g (1lb) prawns -- ideally raw ones -- with shells or tails only

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 fresh or dried small red chilli, finely sliced


50ml (2fl oz) extra olive oil for frying

Crusty bread, to serve

Spicy dipping sauce (see recipe below)

Put the prawns into a bowl. Add in the olive oil, the ground coriander, the ground cumin, the deseeded, sliced chilli and the salt, and leave to stand for half an hour to let the flavours permeate the prawns.

Using a large frying pan, heat up the extra olive oil in the pan. When it is good and hot, add in the prawns -- in two lots if necessary -- and fry them for about three to five minutes until cooked through, tossing occasionally. Serve immediately with the crusty bread and the spicy dipping sauce.

Spicy dipping sauce

You will need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon tomato puree

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tablespoons of vinegar

1-2 teaspoons of sugar

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the chopped onion and crushed garlic cloves. Fry gently to soften them. Next, stir in the tin of chopped tomatoes. Add the tomato puree and the cayenne pepper, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the vinegar, the sugar and the nutmeg. Bring to the boil to thicken slightly, then simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavours blend together. Serve hot or cold.

Hot seared scallops with noodles or salad

This recipe (which is included in my cookbook, From Brenda's Kitchen: 100 Favourite Recipes) is adaptable, in that it can be served with noodles or a salad. I love the smooth texture and flavour of the scallops, as they make a good contrast with the spicy mixture. Serves four to five as a starter.

You will need:

50ml (2floz) sunflower oil

10 fresh scallops, without the roe, slit them in half through the centre to give two thinner discs

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

½-1 thin red chilli deseeded and sliced very thinly lengthways (chillies are very hot, wash your hands well after deseeding to prevent any juices getting into your eyes)

Walnut-sized piece of root ginger, peeled and grated

1 teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon sesame oil, optional

If using noodles, you will need:

15-175 g (5-6oz) egg noodles, cooked as directed on the packet, keep warm

Handful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped

If using salad, you will need:

4-5 handfuls of mixed salad leaves and 2-4 spring onions thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lime wedges, to serve

Too much oil in the pan prevents the scallops from browning easily, so heat a small spoon of sunflower oil in the pan and, when it is really hot, add a few scallops at a time. Fry them very quickly on each side until they are lightly browned. Remove them from the pan, set aside and keep warm. Turn the heat down to medium-low and put the remaining oil in the frying pan.

Add the thinly sliced garlic cloves, the deseeded, sliced chilli and the peeled, grated ginger, and cook gently for a few minutes, stirring well. Add the soy sauce, then the sesame oil, if you're using it.

If you're using the noodles, add them now. Toss everything together, then add in the chopped coriander. Divide the noodles between four/five plates and arrange the scallops on top. Serve hot.

If you're serving with a salad, take the pan off the heat and allow the scallop mixture to cool just a little. Arrange the mixed salad leaves and thinly sliced spring onions on the plates, then put the scallops on top and drizzle the dressing from the pan generously all over. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately with wedges of lime.

Dressed crab

This is Ivan Allen's recipe. Serves five to six people as a starter.

You will need:

425g (15oz) crab meat, brown and white meat (2 or 3 crabs should yield this -- keep the whole crab shells for the crab filling )

75-100g (3-3½oz) soft white breadcrumbs

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons tomato chutney or relish

25g (1oz) butter

Generous pinch of dry mustard or 1 level teaspoon of French mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

175ml (6fl oz) white sauce

For the topping, you will need:

40g (1½oz) melted butter

50g (2oz) white breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. Thoroughly scrub the crab shells. Mix together the brown and white crab meat, the soft white breadcrumbs, the white wine vinegar, and the tomato chutney or the relish, whichever you're using. Then mix in the butter, the dry mustard or the French mustard, whichever you're using, the salt and freshly ground black pepper and the white sauce. Taste and correct the ingredients if required. Fill the crab shells with the mixture.

To make the topping, mix the melted butter and breadcrumbs together to make buttered breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the buttered-breadcrumb topping over the top of the filled crabs. Place them on a tin. Bake the dressed crabs in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the crabs are heated right through and browned on top.

Flash under a hot grill, if necessary, to brown the crumbs.

Sunday Indo Life Magazine