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Don’t Toss Lobster Shells

Lobsters, crabs and shrimp are crustaceans and are not, strictly speaking, shellfish. They do not have shells, even though we call them that. Their “shells” are properly called carapaces. These hard carapaces have joints for movement and grow with the animal and can be sloughed off. When cooked, crustaceans will turn color — shrimp from translucent white-bluish-gray to pink or orange and white, and lobsters from blue-black-scarlet to bright orange-red.

Home cooks too often throw away shells — I’m going to call them shells because carapaces is too cumbersome. It’s important not to throw them away because they’re a resource for the extraction of even more flavor. They’re cheap because you’ve already bought them for their meat, and they make a good foundation for broth.

These shells that we so casually chuck when eating a steamed lobster or shrimp cocktail are rich in flavor. When you make your first lobster or shrimp broth using these shells you will kick yourself when you think of the hundreds of dollars you have thrown into the garbage over past years.

Linguine and shrimp

The next time you have lobster — or crab, crawfish, or shrimp, even if it’s only one — place a large pot near the table and as people finish cracking and removing the meat from their lobster make sure they throw the empty cracked pieces, arms, legs, fan tails, claws, tail shell and body into the pot. Cover with cold water by two inches and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for a few hours. If you don’t have that time, boil for one hour, replenishing the water by a cup or two. There’s no need to salt or add anything to the broth. Strain the broth, discarding all the shells, and let cool. Once the broth is cool, pour into quart or pint plastic containers with lids until nearly full and freeze until needed.

You’ll find myriad uses for this versatile broth. You can always make a bisque with the addition of some shellfish and cream. I especially like to use the shellfish broth to finish pasta. Only your imagination can limit the combinations of pasta type and seafood, and using your homemade broth will add a layer of fresh flavor.

Linguine and shrimp are good classic ingredients for this type of dish. In a flameproof casserole, heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat with two crushed garlic cloves. Remove and discard the garlic once it has turned light golden, then add half a small onion finely chopped and cook until it is translucent in about three minutes while you are stirring.

Meanwhile, cook about three-quarters of a pound of linguine in a large pot of water and when it is half-cooked, transfer it to the casserole with one pound of shelled shrimp, salt to taste (it should taste like the ocean), a half teaspoon of red chili flakes, and a half cup finely chopped parsley. Toss the linguine and add two cups of the shellfish broth and cook, tossing gently, while the linguine absorbs the broth. Add more broth until the linguine is al dente. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard / KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for “A Mediterranean Feast.” His latest book is “Hot & Cheesy” (Wiley) about cooking with cheese.

Photo: The author’s annual lobster fest, 2010. Credit: Michelle van Vliet.

Zester Daily contributor Clifford A. Wright won the James Beard/KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year Award and the James Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food in 2000 for "A Mediterranean Feast." His latest book is "One-Pot Wonders" (Wiley).