The common slipper shell, a type of sea snail, is a familiar sight on the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. Also known as “boat shells” and “quarterdecks”, they live and breed in stacks, attaching themselves to rocks, pilings and other shells. Slipper shells are sequential hermaphrodites, the biggest specimens at the bottom of the stack are females, the smaller ones on top are male. If all the females in a stack die, the largest male will become a female. This behavior gives these mollusks their latin name of Crepidula fornicata, and they are sometimes referred to as the Fornicating Slipper shell.
Like their gastropod cousins Conch, Limpets and Abalone, slipper shells are in fact, edible.
KD is of Portuguese descent, with both her maternal and paternal grandfathers tracing their roots back to the Azores. Like many kids on the Vineyard, she grew up calling these snails “Sweet Meat”. KD also remembers the older generations calling them “Lapish”, which we think comes from “Lapas”, a type of limpet popular in the Azores and Medeira islands.
To find these “Portuguese Escargot”, KD looks for clumps of Sponge Weed, aka “Dead Man’s Fingers”, a type of seaweed that is often attached to the same rocks that Slipper Shells live on. They are fairly easily removed, using a twisting movement to break the suction.
To get at the meat, start at the narrow end and slide your fingernail underneath the foot (the part that looks like a suction cup), then grasp and pull towards the wider end, freeing the belly from the shell. Give it a quick wash in the sea water and pop it in your mouth.
The muscle has a slightly chewy texture and a much sweeter flavor than you expect. The yellow and black guts taste like the ocean, with an intense, briny flavor similar to raw quahogs. While they are usually consumed raw, sweatmeats would probably work well as clam substitute in recipes like clam chowder or clams marinara. While they may look a bit intimidating, if you’re a seafood lover, they’re definitely worth trying.
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