Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the Day

Did you know you could eat starfish?

 

wining - dining 2-3Well before we even discuss whether these beautiful sea creatures are edible, did you know that they are no longer called starfish? No. They are now officially called ‘sea stars’. If you think about it, it’s a much more apt name, as starfish… correction… sea stars, are not actually fish at all. Sea stars are actually echinoderms, which are closely related to sea urchins and sand dollars. The sea star’s cousin, the sea urchin, is gaining popularity among chefs and food lovers around the world.

      But the starfish (let’s stick to the old name for now… old habits die hard) remains an animal that is not considered food in the Western world. Most of us have fond memories of beachcombing as a child, finding starfish in rock pools, or finding a dry, dead one washed up on the beach which, became a treasured possession. Few of us ever looked at these mysterious five-armed creatures and said… YUM! As a Westerner, it’s just hard to think of them as food. That thought is not shared in the Chinese and Japanese cultures however, where starfish are regularly consumed and are even available as street food, and fresh starfish is a delicacy in Hong Kong and China.

      To say that the echinoderm phylum of marine animals (that’s starfish to the non-marine biologists) is not prized for its value as food would be an

understatement. Almost no recipes exist in any major cookbooks calling for starfish as an ingredient. However, as they are considered a nuisance animal by harvesters of oysters and mussels, it would be beneficial if there was a way to make use of them. Google ‘starfish recipes’ and not much comes up, except for a few starfish-shaped cookies and a few things under search terms such as ‘weird seafood’, or ‘easy Asian recipes’.

      But if you do decide you’d like to try eating a starfish and want to prepare it yourself, here’s what to do; it’s actually a fairly easy process. Fill a large pot three quarters of the way with water. Place the water on the stove, turn on the burner and bring the water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water, roughly one teaspoon per four cups of water. This measurement doesn’t have to be exact; the water should just smack of the sea. Place the starfish in the boiling water. It’s best to use live starfish, (gasps of horror from the starfish fan brigade) but if you have a starfish that’s been dead for less than a day, you can also use that. A starfish that’s been dead for more than 24 hours will be too tough to eat, and nobody wants to mess with seafood that’s not fresh, anyway.

     Boil the starfish for three to four minutes, and then remove them from the boiling water and immediately place in a bowl of cold water for 10 to 15 seconds. Remove the starfish from cold water and dry them off. To eat the creatures, use a lobster cracker or pair of pliers to crack the hard outer shell. The inside part of the starfish will look grey… and that’s the part you can eat.

      With sharp armour on one side and tube feet on the other, you don't want to eat the outsides. All the ‘good stuff’ is safely tucked away inside the legs. The easiest way to eat the starfish is first to break off one leg (again, gasps of horror), then use your fingers to pry open the leg via the fissure in the middle of the tube feet. It’s a messy business.

       You’ll see an olive-green mush inside the leg, and that’s your food. This is not ‘first date’ food, as it’s not too glamorous, but the thing to do now is to hold that leg open and use your tongue to dig out that succulent (matter of opinion) starfish meat. If you’ve ever eaten river crabs in Asia, you'll find that the starfish tastes just like the brain area of the crab. It also tastes very similar to sea urchin, not surprising, as they’re from the same family.

      If you've never had the pleasure of eating river crab or sea urchin, the closest way to describe the taste of starfish, is that it tastes the way a beach smells at low tide. Still tempted to try it? The texture is soft, moist, and mushy, and it’s probably not sounding too appetising right now. But that's how it is. It’s no coincidence that sea urchin (which, again, tastes very similar) is considered an acquired taste. And it’s probably not going to be a favourite for everybody. For the seafood lovers out there, though, it's worth a try.

         Starfish is a bit more expensive than a lot of street food – if you can even find it – and it will depend on where in Asia you are. It’s not one of those foods that the locals will eat on a daily basis, but more of a unique local treat, and one of those things that tourists dare each other to try – much like deep-fried scorpions and cockroaches. Are you prepared to break through that tough outer shell to an olive-green mushy middle, or will you rather, like me, prefer to admire them crawling about in rock pools?

         

Rosanne Turner


 


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