The seas around the Scandinavian countries are full of shellfish, sweet and firm from growing slowly in cold, deep waters; huge black lobsters, spindly and soft-shelled Norway lobsters, quick-witted shore crabs, small sweet-fleshed shrimps, large prawns from the North Atlantic, huge common crabs that sabotage the fishermen’s nets and some of the best round-type oysters in the world.
These are all plentiful and eaten as luxuries, though small shrimps and common crabs are very affordable. Crustaceans come in a wide palette of colors, when they are alive – black, bluish, brown, pink, grey, greenish and green, the red color presenting itself only when they are prepared.
Scandinavian crustaceans (including crabs, lobsters, shrimp and prawns) have a unique sweetness and succulence of properly prepared, which is coupled with a penetrating aroma and taste and a firm juiciness that lends itself to all kinds of treatment, even if dealt with simply. The reason is probably because their taste is so fine they do not need many extras from the cook.
So, while you can make delicious shellfish salads with either a herbed vinaigrette or mayonnaise, not much can beat shellfish that is simply grilled or boiled au naturel to expose the luscious flesh In all its glory, eaten with a lemony or herby sauce, a simple salad and some bread. The shells are fine for soups.
The traditional flavoring for crustaceans and shellfish in Scandinavia is fresh dill and, in particular, scented dill flowers. The latter are the most unusual and delicate of northern herbs, and probably unobtainable outside the northern countries if you do not grow your own. They have a deeply complex flavor of dill, fennel and caraway, and you can substitute a mix of these three herbs if you must. Sugar is often added to the cooking liquid, to bring out the sweetness of the fish.
Buying and storing
Crustaceans and molluscs should be alive when you buy them, apart from Norway lobster, or langoustine, which cannot survive the changes in pressure, when pulled up from the seabed. North- sea shrimp and king crabs are mostly sold frozen, and it’s best to buy them that way; the ones at the fishmongers have been thawed for no one knows how long, so it is better to buy the frozen versions and thaw them yourself.
If frozen shellfish is the only option, and you can think of nothing else to eat, thaw them in the fridge overnight, then give them a minute to warm up in the court-bouillon. Remove the shellfish from the court-bouillon and leave until both are cool, then return them to the pan to let them bathe in the aromatic stock for a couple of hours; this really does help the taste along.
With all these creatures there is no optional storing. When they are raw, keep them in the fridge. They must be prepared the day they are bought, and preferably eaten the moment they have cooled a little after cooking. Easting a fresh, lukewarm lobster, shrimp, crab or crayfish is one of the great privileges of inhabiting this globe, whereas eating a refrigerated creature is just nice. Even soup containing shellfish is not hood to keep, though it will certainly survive a night in the fridge.
Scandinavian Shellfish & Molluscs, written by Tor Kjolberg