How to prepare crustaceans
If using frozen prawns, thaw by placing them in cold salted water, then drain.
1. Gently twist the head and pull it from the prawn's body.
2. Using your fingers, roll off the shell from the underside with the legs still attached to the shell.
3. Gently squeeze the tail and carefully remove it. If you wish, the tail flap can remain attached to the body to enhance presentation.
Using your fingers, strip out the black intestinal tract (vein) completely. For green (raw) prawns, you may need to use a small knife to make a shallow cut along the back before removing the intestinal tract.
This is usually done on green prawns. It is used to increase both the visual appeal and the apparent size of the prawns.
Cut the shelled prawn lengthwise, almost right through the flesh and along its entire length, traditionally along the stomach. Alternatively, you can cut along the back of the prawn to give a circular shape and larger appearance.
Deveining can be done at the same time as the butterflying. The tail is traditionally left on for butterfly prawns.
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Visit the Killing seafood page for tips on how to humanely kill crabs.
It is best and much easier to extract the flesh after the crab is cooked.
Mud and spanner crabs have a particularly hard shell that can be cracked only with strong equipment. Blue swimmer crabs have a softer shell and fragile legs and claws, and should be handled more gently—use your hands to open the shell.
Claws and legs
1. Place the dead crab with the underside up.
2. Break off the claws and legs as close as possible to the shell. Do this by twisting them backwards.
3. Crack the claws with the back of a heavy knife or with crab claw crackers, taking care not to crush the meat. Large claws from the mud crab can be placed flat on a board and cracked at the highest point of the shell. Leg meat may be removed by using your fingers at the thin end to squeeze the flesh out. Alternatively, use a crab fork.
- To open the body, first lift up the abdominal flap, twist it off and discard.
- Slip your thumb or the point of a knife under the shell from the back and gently prise the top shell off.
- Remove the guts and gills under fast running water.
- The picture shows the crab before and after the guts are removed.
- Cut or crack the body section in half.
Pick out the meat with a crab fork or skewer, discarding any small pieces of membrane.
Crabs, like rocklobsters, contain a small quantity of roe and milt which can be either eaten with the crab or used in a sauce. The roe that is visible when the abdominal flap is opened has been exposed to the elements and must not be served; use only the roe from inside the body.
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Bugs and rocklobsters
The body flesh of bugs and rocklobsters can be accessed by splitting the animal in half or by cutting outer parts of the animal away to reveal the flesh.
Splitting in half (cooked or uncooked)
This is best done by your fishmonger, but at home you can use a heavy-bladed knife and follow these steps:
1. Place the dead animal on its stomach. If it is cooked, the tail can be left curled up. Insert the point of a strong knife through the centre of the body.
2. Cut all the way through the body towards the tail with a levering action.
3. Turn the animal around. Reinsert the knife in the centre of the body and cut the head neatly in half between the eyes.
4. Gently pull apart and wash under cold running water to remove guts and intestinal tract. The roe and "mustard" can be used in a sauce or served with the dish.
These crustaceans can also be split through the stomach. If you are following this technique, use your free hand to hold the tail firmly to the body. This method may be more suitable when the shell is particularly hard, like that of a bug.
Extracting the flesh
It is easier to extract flesh after cooking whole bugs and rocklobsters.
1. Remove head
2. Cut around the inside edges of the tail with food scissors.
3. Gently lever off the undershell from the head end to the tail end.
4. Remove the meat.
Bug meat can be prepared in many ways for cooking. Clockwise from right: whole; whole with tail inverted and opened; tail meat pulled through top of shell; flesh; and split in half.
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Freshwater crayfish are often served whole.
If you need only the tails, simply break the tail away from the body. The tail meat can be removed by slitting the under membrane and folding the shell apart to reveal the flesh. This can be done if the crayfish is cooked or uncooked. The claws can be used for decoration.
You can split freshwater crayfish in half lengthwise if you:
- Place a long chopping knife or cleaver along the length of the crayfish.
- Apply pressure to the top, thicker edge of the blade. Keep applying pressure until the blade cuts the crayfish in half.
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