edible shellfish

Shellfish as survival food
Part Two

by survival expert James Mandeville

molluscs and crustaceans. Reader rating=3 stars
April 2016.

Main types of edible shellfish

Sea slugs (animals of the order Opisthobranchia, or specifically: Nudibranch)
Sea slugs can be found in all oceans and vary in size from 2.5 – 15 cm (1 – 6 inches) although larger specimens have been recorded.

Generally, the carnivorous sea slugs are poisonous because they feed on whatever is nearby, such as sponges, sea anemones, sea urchins; however, the sea slugs that feed on non–poisonous green algae (such as the Aplysia kurodai, illustrated below).


How to prepare:
Squeeze out any juice, wash in clean water, squeeze several times more.

How to cook:
boil for a few minute then test the meat; if you boil for too long the flash will become rubbery.

Shrimp (and prawns)

All freshwater crustaceans should be cooked because they can house harmful parasites.

Freshwater shrimps live in slow–running streams. They can be found clinging to vegetation in the water or swimming around and are easily caught using a dip net.

Saltwater shrimps live on the seabed. Use a light at night to attract them to the surface and scoop them up in a dip net.

Both the common prawn and the common shrimp are closely related and hence share similar features. Both have five pairs of legs. The prawn walks on the rear three pairs, the front two pairs are used for eating and have pincers, the largest being on the second pair. The shrimp's two front pairs are also pincered, but in this case it is the front pair that are the largest and considerably so. Prawns have longer legs than shrimps.

Common prawn (Palaemon serratus)

Common shrimp (Crangon crangon)

Both shrimps and prawns have their eyes on the end of stalks. Both creatures have two pairs of antenna used to detect their food, one pair being much longer than the other pair.

The prawn's head is extended in front to form a spike (the rostrum), which has several toothed like projections on top of it. The prawn is semi–transparent, its internal organs can easily be seen; the shrimp has more pigment being typically sandy coloured. The common prawn is more of a rocky shore animal, whereas, the shrimp is more of a sandy shore creature.

shrimps and prawns
How to prepare
Hold the prawn's or shrimp's back, pinch the row of tiny legs between your thumb and forefinger and try to pull them all off in one decisive, assertive motion. Once the legs are out of the way, the shell should unwrap nicely from the shrimp's body.

How to cook
Skewer them and grill over a medium–hot fire for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until they turn bright orange and feel firm to the touch. They may also be boiled or baked.

Freshwater crayfish
These may be found under rocks or vegetation in streams or swimming in shallow water. Grab them, or use a shrimp net.

freshwater crayfish
European freshwater crayfish

How to prepare
  • Kill the crayfish with a sharp blow to the head. Run cold water over the crayfish to rinse out any grit.

  • Twist the tail, bending it from side to side, in order to detach it from the body.

  • Discard the head.

  • Take the tail and remove a couple of the sections of shell at the opening to make it easier to remove the tail meat. Holding the tail, pinch it gently, moving down its length, to loosen the meat from the shell.

  • Grasping the base of the tail firmly but gently, pull the meat from its shell. It should come out easily and in one piece.

  • Remove the vein if you wish, though it is not necessary. Alternately, you can remove the meat by squeezing the bottom end of the tail gently with your index finger and the bottom part of your thumb, whilst pulling the meat from the upper end of the tail.

How to cook
Boil the meat or cook it on a skewer over hot embers until the meat goes clear. If it is overcooked, it becomes 'rubbery.' The bodies of crayfish (unlike those of crabs and lobsters) are virtually inedible, so concentrate on eating the flesh in their large tails.

These live on the seabed or in and around rocks and are best caught with a weighed basket baited with dead fish. (Attach a float to the basket so you can find it again.) Leave a small opening in the basket, large enough for a medium–sized lobster to enter. A crab basket needs a smaller opening. In a survival situation, it is difficult to make a suitable trapdoor to keep the lobster or crab in the basket, but the hope is that several of them will enter and they will not all be able to find their way out again.

It is possible to dive for lobster and crabs. They live in almost any rocky environment that gives them adequate cover. Almost any rocky reef with boulders will do. In the day they hide in crevices, caves and under ledges. To find a lobster, look for tips of their antenna, or their legs sticking out from cover. Also look under ledges or boulders which they use for cover during the day. Lobsters are spiny, so you need some hand protection and a net bag to put them in.


lobster basket

lobster pot
Photo above, a simple, but effective, traditional style of lobster trap using a funnel entrance. Photo below, lobster pot woven out of willow. A good survival project as this pot requires nothing but willow canes, water to soak them in, time and patience.

willow lobster pot
How to prepare
A Lobster is a cold blooded creature with no brain as we understand it so it is not possible to "kill" it, in the normal meaning of the word. In the home the humane way is to slowly cool it down until it sinks into oblivion and then cook it. In a survival situation just take a live lobster and cook it (mind the claws when handling the lobster if you can't bind them up)

How to cook
  • Drop the lobster live into boiling water.

  • Cover the pan because the lobster will thrash around; place branches over the pot if you have no lid.

  • Simmer the lobster for approximately 5 minutes per 0.5 kilo (1.1 pounds). It will change from its normal colour to coral pink.

  • When done, drop it into cold water to stop it cooking.

Use a sharp, thick–bladed knife to separate the two halves of a lobster from head to tail. The small sac and the black tail vein must be removed.

All other parts, including the roe and the tomalley (greenish liver) are edible and delicious.

The claws and legs should be cracked with a stone to remove the meat.


Crabs are easily caught on the seashore or in the shallows by dip net or by baiting a basket type of trap with fish or animal guts and flesh. There are hundreds of poisonous reef crabs and, once again, it is preferable not to eat any reef creature unless you are certain it is safe.

How to prepare

cooking crab

  • Clean the crab in fresh water before you cook it.

  • To handle a crab, grasp it from the back in a cloth, holding its claws against the sides of its shell.

  • Many people simply drop live crabs into boiling water, however, not killing the crab first makes the meat tough and it retains too much water in the shell. Killing a crab is very easy; first turn it onto its back with its legs upward. Underneath, towards the back of the shell, you will see a small pointed flap, lift this flap and you will find a small hole in the shell. Using a small blade or sharpened stick, pierce down through this hole, with a sharp tap on the top of the blade or stick, until you feel it hit the other side of the shell. Move the blade or stick sharply towards the back of the shell then remove it. Finally, turn the crab right side up and allow it to drain. Remove the claws and cook them separately.

How to cook
  • Using the largest pan you have, half fill with fresh water and add plenty of salt if you have any; use 150 g salt to 4.5 litres (5.3 ounces salt to 8 pints (1.2 US gallons)) of water and bring to a vigorous boil.

  • Drop the crab into the pan and bring the water back to the boil.

    When the water comes back to the boil, start timing. Use 20 minutes for crabs up to 0.5 kilo (1.1 pounds) over that.

  • When the time is up, carefully pour the water out and wash off the crab with fresh water to remove any surplus protein.

  • Allow time to cool and then follow the preparation instructions below.
In an extreme survival situation, spear the crab with a sharp stick or knife and simply roast it on hot embers (shell down, legs up). Pull off the large claws and crack them open, the meat should be soft and cooked right through. Break off the shell and eat the meat that lies closest to the shell or follow the instructions below. Use the rest of the meat for bait.

Extracting crab meat
The white meat is found in the claws, legs and central body part called the purse, while the brown meat is located in the 'carapace'. Also in the carapace are the dead men's fingers. Contrary to belief, they are not actually poisonous, rather just not very pleasant to eat — they are the crab's gills and look like fibrous fingers curled around the purse. They are easily removed and, once discarded, pretty much everything else is edible.

To start, break off the legs and claws from the body of your cooked crab. Put the carapace on a flat surface and push with your fingers from its tail end to push out the purse. Discard the dead men's fingers and the sheet inside the body along with the mouth piece. Scoop out the brown meat from the carapace and around the purse. Chop the purse into four with a big knife and pick out the white meat from the internal cavities with a skewer. Break into the claws and legs with a mallet or rock and pick out the white meat. Place the brown and white meat into the carapace and use as a plate. Season with salt and lemon (if available).

Sea Urchins (Echinoidea)

sea urchin

Sea urchins are found in tropical, subtropical, Mediterranean, Atlantic and Pacific marine regions. The spines of the sea urchins are used to deliver their venom. The sting can cause severe burning pain, swelling, bleeding, itch, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness and difficulty breathing. The symptoms may develop immediately and may last up to 6 hours. Deep puncture wounds may be seen after a sting. There are approximately 950 species in the echinoderm family, amongst which, the sea urchin is found. It is a gregarious animal, which lives in water up to 360 metres (1,180 feet) deep, also large groups may be found stuck to rocky walls of the coast where it feeds off the seaweed in its surroundings.

The best time of year for their consumption is between the months of December and February, coinciding with the big tidal changes caused by the moon, above all the new moon and the full moon. The reason for this is that these dates coincide with their reproductive cycle and the edible part of sea urchins are the gonads, their meaty genital glands.

open sea urchin

Those of the females, larger and tastier, are fully developed at this time of year and possess a granular texture that accentuates their characteristic salty flavour and intense aroma of iodine from the seaweed they have consumed. The female urchin is generally larger than the male, with shorter spines within the same species. It is difficult to open an urchin without a culinary tool designed for the job, but the idea is to cut the top off the urchin, wash it in salt water and lick out the gonads with the tongue or spoon them out. Food value is mainly protein, about 120 calories per 100 g (3.53 ounces).

What are the risks?
The spines of most urchins are not dangerously toxic but they can inflict painful puncture wounds and the toxin can cause discomfort for a number of days and possibly lead to contact dermatitis. Vinegar dissolves the fragments of spine left in the wound. As with oysters, urchins can be contaminated with Vibrio parahaemolyticus. Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. V. parahaemolyticus naturally inhabits coastal waters in the United States and Canada and is present in higher concentrations during summer; it is a halophilic, or salt–requiring organism.

When ingested, V. parahaemolyticus causes watery diarrhoea, often accompanied with abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills. Usually these symptoms occur within 24 hours of ingestion. Illness is usually self–limiting and lasts 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems. V. parahaemolyticus can also cause an infection of the skin when an open wound is exposed to warm seawater.

Octopus and squid


cooking Octopus
How to prepare
  • Spread out the octopus.

  • Cut off the head just above tentacles, halve it lengthwise and remove the ink sac and innards.

    Removing Octopus tentacles

  • Pound the octopus on a rock to tenderize the flesh (about 100 times) until the tentacles curl and the membrane between them can be easily split.

    Removing Octopus beak

  • Turn cluster of tentacles over (inside out) and, squeezing the centre, push out beak

    Octopus for cooking

  • Carefully cut out beak and discard.

  • Cut apart and separate the tentacles.

How to cook
Wash and dry all the flesh, boil or grill over an open fire.

How to prepare
  1. Remove the elastic grey skin by scraping down the body with a knife, the skin will come loose, then peel it off using your fingers.

  2. Cut the head away from the body just above the eyes.

  3. Cut off the tentacles from the rest of the head,Preparing squid
    just under the eyes. If you break the ink sac, rinse the squid under running water.

  4. Throw away the head and innards. There is a small bony beak in the centre of the tentacles, which can be squeezed out easily, leaving the tentacles edible.

  5. The body cavity contains a quill–like cartilage. Pull this out and then squeeze out any jelly–like insides.

How to cook
Rinse the squid in cold running water and let drain. Slice it into rings and fry.

Turtle and tortoise (survival method)

cooking a turtle
How to prepare
Break away some of the bottom body plate near the neck and grasp the neck of the turtle.

Pull the neck out of the shell and cut it off to bleed the turtle for 30 minutes. In the same hole below the neck cavity, reach into the shell, cut down and drag out all the internal organs you can find taking care not to rupture them.

Place hot rocks into the belly of the turtle and cook in a pit oven. When you judge it ready, break away the bottom plate and cut out the meat.

Turtle soup is highly nourishing. To make it, cut the cartilage from the bones of the bottom plate. An adult turtle will yield around 2.5 kilo (5.5 pounds). This can be used straight away or dried for use later.

How to cook
Boil in water, add vegetables or plants, anything nourishing; it is ready when it begins to thicken.