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I have heard that you need to “purge” some types of shellfish. Can you please explain what this is and how to do it.
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It is fairly common knowledge that shellfish should be “purged” in preparation for eating. This purging expels the sand, grit, and other impurities from inside the shells. This process typically takes 30 minutes, in a bucket of clean water. What isn’t common knowledge however is that purging also helps to remove bacteria and other microorganisms within the shells – this is why it is ideal to purge for 12-24 hours, with frequent water changes.

Purging is not anything special or fancy done to the shellfish. It is simply allowing them to carry out their natural function of filtering and cleaning the water they live in. All that needs to be provided is clean water, so you know they are filtering out the sand, mud and gunk they picked up from living in ocean areas, muddy lakes and creeks. If you bypass this step, you’ll end up with a mouthful of gritty sand or mud when it comes to eating time!

When it comes to purging freshwater mussels, do so in clean freshwater. Don’t add salt! Freshwater shellfish really do not like salt, they just clam up even more tightly and won’t allow the salt water in. This is what they do when exposed to air as well. It is a survival mechanism.

For salt-water shellfish such as Pipis, Surf Clams, and Vongole, place them in clean sea-water or, if you don’t have clean sea-water, in a solution of cool water and sea salt (30g salt to each litre of water) for several hours, or overnight, in a cool part of the house (if you refrigerate them they’ll close up and won’t “spit out” the sand).

In Summary

Purging (depuration) of seafood is the process by which marine or freshwater animals are placed into a clean water environment for a period of time to allow purging of biological contaminants (such as Escherichia coli) and physical impurities (such as sand and silt). The most common subjects of depuration are such bivalves as oysters, clams, and mussels.

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