How To Cook Shellfish

Shellfish are often the final frontier for home cooks who have already mastered the basics of meat and fish preparation. While beef, pork and poultry use similar cooking methods, shellfish is often purchased alive, may have a shell and require special preparation.

For those who want to learn how to cook shellfish, the first step is to understand which cooking methods are traditionally used and then pair the right method with each type of seafood.

Common Cooking Methods

When it comes to how to cook shellfish, home cooks will likely use one of the methods below.


  • Not to be confused with boiling, steaming cooks shellfish in only a small amount of liquid.
  • Put a half inch of liquid at the bottom of a heavy pot. Broth, wine or water mixed with lemon juice are popular options.
  • Once the liquid boils, add shellfish, cover tightly and reduce heat.
  • Let simmer for up to 10 minutes, until shellfish is done.
  • As a bonus, you can use the leftover liquid from steaming as the base for a sauce.


  • Sauteing shellfish is a quick method to create flavorful meals.
  • Add oil or butter to a skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Once oil or butter is hot, add shellfish and cook, stirring occasionally.


  • Prior to grilling shellfish, clean and oil grill grates.
  • Heat grill and add shellfish, turning once during cooking.
  • Brush with butter or another seasoning either before or during grilling.
  • Shells should be left on shrimp and other shellfish for best results. Ingredients that don't have a shell, such as scallops, can be grilled if placed in a foil packet.


  • Poaching cooks food in a liquid and can be ideal for shellfish that may be tough or chewy, such as octopus.
  • Add enough liquid to a pot to cover the shellfish. While water can be used for poaching, broth or wine will add more flavor.
  • Heat liquid until it begins to boil. Add shellfish and reduce heat.
  • Simmer until the shellfish is done; some recommend as long as 13 minutes per pound to properly tenderize octopus.


  • Baking is a traditional way to prepare lobster, crab and other shellfish in New England.
  • Traditional recipes call for the shellfish to be baked in the ground although many modern recipes for New England bakes call for boiling or steaming the various elements of the recipe and then combining them.
  • To bake shellfish at home, place it in a roasting pan along with potatoes, corn or other vegetables. Brush with melted butter or add other seasonings. Cook at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until done.

Which Type of Shellfish is Best for Each Cooking Method?

Knowing the various ways of how to cook shellfish is only half the battle. You also have to know which method works best with which type of seafood. Here's a closer look at how to make the shellfish most commonly found in home kitchens.


  • Lobster is often sold alive although lobster tails are also commonly found in markets.
  • Although many people boil lobster, doing so may wash out the flavor.
  • Instead, try grilling, steaming or baking.
  • Serve alongside melted butter or another sauce for dipping.


  • Shrimp may be cooked either with or without their shells.
  • Shell-on shrimp can be grilled.
  • Shelled shrimp is often sautéed.
  • Although it can be served alone, shrimp also works nicely as part of a salad or tossed with pasta and a sauce.


  • Mollusks include clams, oysters and mussels.
  • Steaming is typically the preferred method of preparing mollusks.
  • Grilling and baking are also common ways to cook this type of seafood.


  • Octopus may be purchased whole or in parts.
  • Regardless of how it is purchased, octopus needs to be tenderized.
  • Poaching is an ideal method for tenderizing octopus while cooking it. For best results, try poaching in wine.
  • Some recipes call for poaching first, followed by sautéing or searing.


  • Crab is similar to lobster in that it is often sold whole and alive. However, it can also be purchased frozen, either whole or as crab legs.
  • And like lobster, crab may be frequently boiled although there are better ways to bring out the flavor of this shellfish.
  • Try grilling, steaming or baking crab instead.

That covers the basics of how to cook shellfish. However, there is so much more to learn. To explore the subject more fully and master advanced techniques, check out the culinary schools below to find classes in your area.


  • 3 Ways to Cook Clams & Mussels Like a Pro, Tipnut, http://tipnut.com/clams-mussels/
  • Seafood Preparation by Method, AboutSeafood, https://www.aboutseafood.com/cooking/seafood-preparation-method
  • A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Over Your Fear of Octopus, Bon Appetit, http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/how-to/article/guide-to-octopus
  • 6 Common Saltwater Fish and Shellfish, Cooking Light, http://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/essential-ingredients/common-saltwater-fish/view-all
  • How to grill shrimp, lobster and other shellfish, TODAY, http://www.today.com/food/how-grill-shrimp-lobster-other-shellfish-t22361

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