An interesting looking new seafood is on our radar this week, thanks to US chef Dan Barber, who posted some images of a strange-looking stackable shellfish on his Instagram account.
Known as the Atlantic Slippersnail or the Montauk Escargot in the US, the ubiquitous shellfish, known as "berlingot des mers" in France, the "common slipper limpet" or "slipper snail" in the UK is also billed as the "Candy of the sea", thanks to their proliferation in some coastal areas.
Have you ever heard about tried this controversial seafood delicacy? Here's the lowdown on the sustainable seafood that has spanned the Atlantic and fought it's way into US chefs good books.
What is the Atlantic Slippersnail?
Atlantic Slipper Snails are a medium-sized sea snail or a marine gastropod mollusc from the family Calyptraeidae, usually found in coastal areas.
The individual snails' stack on top of each other (top image) in an unusual formation with up to 12 individual shells clinging to each other, like limpets, with the largest shell at the bottom and the smallest on top.
On the inside of each shell, there's a white "deck", which can be likened to a slipper, hence the name.
Did you know? Atlantic slippersnails can change sex!
The largest and oldest Slipper limpets at the bottom of the stack are female, with the younger and smaller males on top. When the females die, the largest male turns into a female!
Where can you find slippersnails?
Slippersnails proliferate on the east coast of the US, only crossing the Atlantic to Europe in the 19th century, where they are now so widespread across Europe, they are being commercially harvested, including in the bay of Mont St Michel, Brittany, France.
A predatory pest
Slippersnails have received a bad press for their prolific repopulation and their predatory ways. They compete with mussels and oysters and can damage oyster fisheries. In Europe, they have no known predators to keep their numbers in check.
What do Atlantic Slippersnails taste like?
The New York Times reported on the plague of slippersnails a few years ago and a local bid to turn them into a delicacy by encouraging locals branch out and try them over traditional favourites like oysters and mussels. “It tastes like seawater but is also a bit sweet,” with a bitter aftertaste that recalls hazelnuts, recalled Mr Orieux, an amateur deep-sea diver who regularly incorporates the “berlingot des mers” in his creations for the restaurant Auguste in Paris.
When Dan Barber recently posted preparation pictures of the Atlantic Slippersnail in his Blue Hill Stone Barns kitchen, it was received with ripples of interest from his followers.
Sharing more information on the merits of the unique shellfish were the dock to dish group.
How to eat the Atlantic Slippersnail
In some countries, they are considered a delicacy, rather than a pest, like in Hawaii. They are considered to have a unique taste sufficient enough to be marketed in their own right, rather than as a seafood substitute.
Little information abounds on how to cook them yet but given an endorsement by big-name chefs like US chefs like Dan Barber, it's just a matter of time.
In the meantime, if you find yourself with a stack of Atlantic Slippersnails here are the recipes to try.