We take a Deep Dive Into Different Seafood Delicacies
The ocean is filled with interesting creatures, some seafood delicacies widely consumed and others lesser-known. Let’s take a deep dive and explore what’s under the sea…
Of all the South African sea creatures, abalone is the most controversial. It’s also one of the most precious seafood delicacies, internationally. Abalone is also known as ‘perlemoen’ in SA and is derived from the Dutch name ‘Paarlemoer’, meaning ‘mother of pearl’. This type of seafood can also be found in Japan, New Zealand, Australia and South African waters.
Abalone is a sea snail and is highly sought after thanks to its iridescent, colour-changing exterior made of nacre. The procurement of abalone is a touchy subject, especially in South Africa, as it’s often illegally sourced and sold on the black market. However, there are sustainable and legal means of obtaining abalone should you want to prepare it at home. If you’ve never tried abalone, certain local seafood restaurants serve it but be sure to ask if it has been sustainably sourced.
Taste: distinct, salty, buttery.
Texture: chewy, smooth. Often referred to as calamari steak. Between a squid and scallop
Preparation: can be eaten straight from the ocean (like shucked oysters).
Out of all the seafood delicacies, sea urchin probably has the most distinct appearance, due to its spiky and rather menacing looking outer shell. If you can get beyond the spiky exterior, the true treasure lies inside the shell. Uni (pronounced ‘oo-nee’) is the Japanese name for sea urchin, which is actually sea urchin flesh. Most mistake the flesh for roe (fish-eggs, like caviar) but it’s actually the gonads (five in total). The sea urchin flesh usually has a bright orange or yellow appearance.
Interestingly enough, uni is one of those seafood delicacies which surprisingly doesn’t have a ‘fishy’ taste. Uni should taste like the ocean and should it have a fishy/metallic smell, soapy/bitter taste or appears to be mushy/watery/discoloured, it probably isn’t safe to consume. Uni tastes unlike any other seafood but is often referred to as the ‘foie gras of the ocean’ thanks to its buttery, rich flavour profile. The taste and appearance differ depending on gender, variety as well as the sea urchin’s diet.
Taste: umami, natural sweetness, rich, buttery.
Texture: dry on the surface, firm, yet soft. Silky and slightly slimy.
Preparation: most popularly eaten freshly shucked, if you want to get the most flavour out of it or lightly seared. Uni’s buttery texture pairs well with wagyu steak. It can also be served in pasta or enjoyed as sushi/sashimi.
Caviar is basically fish eggs/roe; it is a symbol of opulence and is one of the most widely consumed seafood delicacies in the world. Caviar is the champagne of seafood. Much like Champagne, which can only hail from France — caviar is traditionally only caviar when derived from purebred beluga sturgeons (not whales). Sturgeon is also one of the most archaic fish and is an endangered species in the Black/Caspian Sea. It is for this reason that beluga caviar is farmed in other parts of the world.
While caviar is considered roe, not all roe is caviar. Other types of roe, typically salmon, trout and cod differ from caviar and don’t have the same richness. Roe sourced from fish other than beluga sturgeon, is referred to as a ‘caviar substitute’. Try this recipe for oysters with black caviar.
Taste: rich, slightly salty, buttery, sometimes nutty.
Texture: granular, yet smooth. Delicate mouth-feel.
Preparation: Caviar doesn’t require cooking preparation, like other types of seafood. It’s usually pre-packaged and brined to preserve its freshness. Caviar is enjoyed by the spoonful and paired with delicate flavours, allowing the caviar flavour to shine.
Eel is a fish, although it resembles more of a sea snake. Much like uni, eel doesn’t have a strong fishy taste and is usually compared to salmon, lobster, octopus or catfish. Some might find this seafood delicacy off-putting but its high nutrient and protein value make it worth trying.
While the price of eel is shockingly high and might be difficult to obtain locally, it’s widely consumed in Japan and used as the main ingredient in some dishes. Much like any sea creature, there are two types of eels, freshwater (unagi) and saltwater eels (anago/conger eel). This slimy sea-serpent has a surprisingly mild flavour, allowing it to absorb the flavours of the dish it’s incorporated into.
Taste: naturally sweet, mild.
Texture: soft, yet firm, slightly chewy, slimy.
Preparation: most commonly grilled, but eel can be prepared in numerous ways —smoked, fried, steamed, enjoyed as sushi or eel soup.
Those who have watched Octopus Teacher, know that South African octopuses are incredibly intelligent sea creatures, it is for this reason some pescatarians choose to not consume it. Octopuses are found in oceans across the world and its taste is often compared to squid or lobster, in the sense that it’s mild and meaty. This seafood delicacy is not the easiest to prepare. Octopus is similar to cooking liver, when over-cooked it becomes rubbery and unpleasant to chew.
Taste: mild, meaty
Texture: when uncooked it’s slimy, firm and rubbery
Preparation: octopus is pretty diverse in terms of preparation, it can be grilled, fried, smoked. More uncommonly eaten raw, as it doesn’t have much flavour on its own. Most seafood restaurants serve it with a garlic/chilli/lemon sauce to lift the flavour. Baby octopus is also eaten and is delicious (sorry mommy octopus).
Try this recipe for a Marinated Seafood Platter with Octopus and Mussels
Most of you have probably consumed this seafood delicacy without even realising it. If you’re a fish ‘n chips lover, we’ll assume you’ve had your fair share of calamari. That’s right — people usually think calamari is made from octopus but it’s actually made from a type of squid. Because squid have longer lifespans compared to octopuses, they are bigger and meatier in texture.
Squid ink, secreted from its gladius or ‘pen’ is also enjoyed and incorporated into certain dishes (similar to using activated charcoal). Using black squid ink to coat pasta has become a popularised dish. If you’ve never tried squid ink, rest assured, it doesn’t taste anything like the ink from your fountain pen — it tastes of fresh seawater and umami notes.
Taste: mild, similar to lobster.
Texture: meaty, chewy, rubbery (needs to be skilfully prepared)
Preparation: squid is similar to octopus in how it’s prepared and can be grilled, smoked, or fried. Due to its mild taste, it absorbs other flavours easily when cut into rings or strips, which can be battered and fried or grilled and enjoyed as calamari. Squid also has a hollow cavity that can be stuffed. It’s important to soak squid for a couple of hours before cooking it, to remove any bitterness. Try this recipe for Fried Louisiana Cajun Calamari.
This crustacean is usually found on rocky seabeds in Cape Town and along the West Coast and obtaining crayfish requires a fishing permit.
This type of seafood is commonly thought to be the same as lobster. Crayfish and lobster differ in appearance — while crayfish has a rougher exoskeleton and darker appearance, lobster has a smooth exoskeleton, distinct pincers and a bright red appearance. Another noticeable difference is the size, crayfish are smaller than lobsters. Although similar, crayfish has a more subdued taste, whereas lobster has a more intense flavour
To add to the shellfish confusion, another seafood delicacy that crayfish is commonly mistaken for is crawfish, which is popular in the United States. Crawfish are notably smaller than South African crayfish.
The crayfish’s body and tail contain white meat, beneath its hard exoskeleton. Crayfish legs are also prized for the meat and their ability to absorb flavour. Crayfish needs to be cleaned and deveined before being cooked.
Taste: mild fish flavour.
Texture: meaty, soft, yet firm
Preparation: in South Africa, crayfish is usually enjoyed as crayfish curry, prepared in a potjie. Crayfish is also wonderful when grilled with simple flavours like garlic, chilli and citrus. Crayfish should not be overcooked to avoid having a rubbery texture.
Take your crayfish to the next level with this Crayfish with Mint and Dill Salsa Verde recipe.
Langoustines are known as Norway lobster or scampi, which is the Italian word for bending — given to the creature because of its distinctive curvature. Langoustines can be found in clear, cold waters along the coast of Norway, Morocco, New Zealand and Australia.
This type of seafood is smaller than its counterparts and typically ranges between 10 to 30 centimetres in length. The meat is sourced from the body, tail and head. The flavour can be compared to lobster or crab, with the texture being more comparable to shrimp. Similar to crayfish, langoustines need to be deveined before being eaten.
Taste: juicy, slightly sweet.
Texture: meaty, lean.
Preparation: best enjoyed when grilled, boiled in stock or breaded after removing the meat from the shell.
Scallops are saltwater molluscs/clams that are highly praised for their delicate texture and flavour. They’re one of the more ‘high-maintenance’ seafood delicacies when it comes to price and preparation. Much like its texture, scallops require a delicate touch when cooked and they’re best seared quickly (on either side). If you’re looking to try scallops, a couple of local high-end and fine-dining restaurants serve them. Scallops aren’t commercially farmed or harvested in South Africa and are usually imported.
They range in size, depending on where they’re harvested. Some of the best scallops are found in Japan, Russia, Canada, Norway; but Alaska has the most sought-after and scallops, due to their freshness, sweetness and size.
Taste: naturally sweet, buttery and delicate.
Texture: velvety (uncooked). Tender, yet firm (cooked).
Preparation: because they are naturally tender, scallops don’t rely on much cooking, they are best cooked with a decent amount of butter and basted. Not requiring much preparation, they should be seared for no longer than four to five minutes. If you’re not sure whether your scallops are cooked, you should have a light golden brown finish on either side and should come apart slightly along the edges.
For ultimate decadence, try our delicious Scallops with Chorizo Butter recipe.
Another pearl of the ocean, oysters are highly prized and a symbol of decadence. These deliciously slimy treats are not for everyone and are an acquired taste…
Oysters actually refer to a family of bivalve molluscs (clams, oysters, mussels, scallops). This seafood delicacy grows all over the world and can be found in brackish and saltwater environments. In South Africa, we’re lucky enough to enjoy oysters guilt-free, as they’re on the green list of sea creatures. Oysters are locally sourced along the East Coast shores of Gqeberha, Mosselbay and Knysna.
Oysters have iridescent shells, much like abalone. The meat portion contained in the oyster shell is commonly enjoyed as starters. Best enjoyed straight out of the water, these costly molluscs come in different sizes from cocktail to extra-large. Shucking oysters can be a dangerous sport, having a steady hand and firm grip when prying them open is key. Always ensure that your oysters are fresh and safe for consumption — no one likes a bad oyster.
Taste: salty, sea-water
Texture: silky, meaty
Preparation: can be eaten freshly shucked, paired with simple flavours — citrus juice/zest, commonly eaten with condiments like Tabasco hot sauce at local restaurants. Fresh chilli, onion and garlic are also used to garnish. They’re less commonly fried, baked, stewed or steamed.
Looking for the perfect amuse-bouche? Get inspired by our Fresh Oysters with Caviar and Pickled Ginger Vinaigrette recipe.
Mussels are similar to oysters in shape and also fall under bivalve molluscs. This tasty seafood delicacies is anchored to sea rocks with strong hair-like threads, commonly referred to as ‘the beard’. Mussels are found in both freshwater and seawater.
Its exterior consists of two hinged shells (similar to a locket) and its name suggests, it is connected by a fibrous ligament. Attached to the interior of the shell, lies two meaty mussels. Before consuming them, the mussel shell needs to be thoroughly brushed and ‘debearded’. The great thing about cooking mussels is that they’re pretty self-sufficient and tell you when they’re ready to be taken out of the pot. Mussels are properly cooked when the shells open up and reveal the meaty part.
Taste: mild salty seawater taste, mushroom-like flavour
Texture: meaty, lean, firm, yet soft
Preparation: mussels can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. They’re usually enjoyed with complementary flavours — cooked in white wine broth, lemon-butter sauce. Popular mussel dishes include paella, Thai coconut cream curry, chowder; classic red sauce, pasta and garnished with fresh parsley, capers. Try this recipe for Thai Mussels.
Suddenly have a craving for seafood? Get inspired by our tasty Fish and Seafood recipes.
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