The risky business of dining on dangerous foods

There are some foods from the sea that some are willing to risk their lives for -– such is the case of fugu, or blowfish. I’ve never eaten it, though I could have, once upon a time, when I’d been invited in Tokyo for a farewell dinner. My boyfriend at the time, now my husband, was horrified at the thought, and so we settled for a French dinner instead. The dinner, though at a well-known restaurant, was meh. (Since then, btw, that missed fugu dinner has become part of our family’s dining lore.)

In Catalunya, and Galicia as well, there is a popular seafood that one risks, not exactly one’s life, but one’s lips and tongue to eat. And that is the mantis shrimp (galera). It’s not as popularly eaten in other parts of Spain apparently. I saw them for the first time yesterday at the Mercadona in Villalonga, and I could not resist buying some.

My first introduction to this unusual crustacean was in Ametlla de Mar in Southern Catalunya, where it was exquisitely prepared at Restaurant Mestral. The occasion was a gastronomic festival to honour this local delicacy, and the Mestral’s suquet de galeras (mantis shrimp stew) was truly outstanding. Something close to it was what I was aiming at. I didn’t have the Mestral’s recipe, but I guessed there should be onions, garlic, tomatoes, saffron, and white wine, with ground almonds for thickening. The result of my experiment was not quite in Mestral’s league, but it was pretty good, if I may say so myself.

Mantis shrimp in saffron tomato sauce.JPG

However, there has to be another way to eat this delightful seafood without lacerating one’s tongue and lower lips. The way they do it in Ametlla de Mar is to hold the shrimp upright with the fingers of both hands, bring one end to your lips, and as you suck the flavourful sauce that clings to it, use your teeth to scrape the shell and draw out the flesh. It is most definitely not one of those foods you want to eat on a first date, or any kind of date, unless you’ve known each other or been married for ages.

Unfamiliar with local protocol at that time, we used knives and forks at first, rather inefficiently. Then we glanced around at the local diners — couples of a certain age and of a certain social standing, immaculately groomed — all unabashedly using their fingers and sucking at the shells with gusto. Well, if in Rome… and in no time at all we were sucking with the best of them. Although we had been forewarned by the waitress about the vicious spines, it was next to impossible to avoid getting our lips and tongues snagged.

This time around I’ve tried to peel the shells at the table, but while this saves your lips and tongue, this is not as satisfying as sucking at the shell itself, because there’s no accompanying sauce with each mouthful. Youtube shows several ways of eating these unusual shrimps — peeling the shell, trimming the side spines with kitchen shears, and cutting lengthwise through the body. I might trim the side and tail spines next time I prepare mantis shrimp. But I’m not going to be doing that anytime soon. The fine cuts on my lips and tongue are going to need a few days to heal.

Oh, what we risk to prepare and eat something unusual!






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