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I’ve been experimenting with blue mussels recently and began to wonder about the other 93,000 species of mollusks. They’re a wildly diverse group of creatures, often bizarre in appearance, and occasionally delicious. From a culinary point of view, it’s probably not all that important to know which members of the Phylum belong to which Classes and Orders and so on, but it does help to sort them out in this way.

Some Mollusca101 facts:

  • Most have shells
  • They live on land and sea
  • One quarter of known marine species are mollusks
  • There are ten Classes, two are extinct and five aren’t important to cooks
  • That leaves the Big Three: Gastropods, Bivalves, and Cephalopods

Gastropods, also known as univalves, are the biggest group accounting for 80% of all mollusk species. Insects are the only other Class with a greater number of species. Gastropods include: snails, periwinkles, cockles, barnacles, conch, abalone, whelks, arcs, frog shells, top shells, wavy turbans, tritons, cowries, limpets, and more.

Bivalves always have a pair of hinged shells. Some are good swimmers and some attach themselves to objects. This group includes oysters, scallops, soft shell clams, quahogs, geoducks, jackknifes/razors, mussels, etc.

Cephalopods include octopus, squid, cuttlefish, and nautilus - although I'm not sure if people actually eat the nautilus. I've read that the octopus is the most intelligent invertebrate, and that there are thousand-pound squids in the deep Southern Ocean.

What are your favorite mollusks, or molluscs?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

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Moe Sizlack

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A lovely way of looking at it, through the Phylum Mollusca.

I go to Cape Cod on a regular annual sojourn that is all about communing with molluscs. I'm partial to the bivalaves, with oysters and scallops being at the top of the list. I like seeing them alive in nature, swimming with them, and then later enjoying eating them with a nice crisp white wine. The world seems right.

This has a lot to do with saltwater and how it smells and tastes.

I'm not partial to cephalopods, except intellectually. Octopi are actually rather clever animals.

The gastropods I think of as land dwellers, and there I'd have to vote for our French friends, the escargot avec garlic and more garlic. Next time I'm planning for them, I'll make sure I smell wet earth first, and see if that brings up a feeling of deep peace.

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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Mussels or oysters? Mussels or oysters? Hmmm...Oysters! I'm completely infatuated with their briney, minerally and slightly sweet flavors. Swear to god I feel like a strongman when I finish a dozen. Smoked, steamed, grilled, raw...love them!

And it would seem a certain Walrus and Carpenter agree.

Shelley: Would you like some pie?

Gordon: MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES AND A GLASS OF WATER, SWEETHEART. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.

Twin Peaks

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This year I discovered the "bulot" or sea snail. LOVE them.

Never heard of bulot, what are they like?

I looked them up, sounds like Prosobranchia -- the group including conch, cowries, limpets, periwinkles, etc. Google translates bulot as whelk. Does bulot refer to any sea snail?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

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Moe Sizlack

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Lobsters are crustaceans in the phylum Arthropoda

Right, along with crabs and shrimp. Urchins and sea cucumbers are also not mollusks, they're echinoderms.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Mussels or oysters? Mussels or oysters? Hmmm...Oysters! I'm completely infatuated with their briney, minerally and slightly sweet flavors. Swear to god I feel like a strongman when I finish a dozen. Smoked, steamed, grilled, raw...love them!

And it would seem a certain Walrus and Carpenter agree.

Funny you should mention that -- I recently watched Alice in Wonderland (1951) with my kids and found that oyster sequence to be totally bizarre. Right up there with Porky Pig's hallucinogenic anti-smoking cartoon from 1938.

Edited by Peter the eater (log)

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

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Moe Sizlack

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There's a snail thread (!) somewhere that discusses the difference between bulots, or various types of sea snail, and land snails, which is what I have always taken to be escargots. When I was little my father was able to gross me out totally by eating live whelks out of the waters of Long Island. He referred to them by the Italian name, Scungilli. Who taught him this is a mystery that's gone to the grave with him, as we certainly aren't Italian and I certainly never saw him eat whelk anywhere else or cooked, for that matter. I'm sure he only did it to make me scream. What a dedicated Dad!

When escargots are good, they're really good, but mostly they don't seem fresh or tender when ordered here in the states. Although I did have some that were very nice in a little bistro in Portland. Had some really yummy ones in the south of France.

I love raw oysters, but not cooked oysters, steamed mussels, most any kind of east coast clam--steamers, razors, hard shells. For some reason I can't stand scallops.

I'm in 100 percent agreement with a poster above who much prefers watching and thinking about the living octopus than actually eating one. Squid, meh. Deep-fried tentacles from little ones can be fun, if not overcooked or too greasy.

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Whelks are great. It kills me how hard it is to get various kinds of shellfish in the U.S. We gorged on whelks when we were in Paris. I also love periwinkle (both Western style and, mmmm, in black bean sauce) and clams. I need a good balance of chew to soft, generally. I'm not a huge oyster or mussel fan, actually, and not all that fond of scallops or abalone either.

I also like both octopus and squid, mainly for the great chew.

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Hest88, I notice you are from the Bay Area too. Although I found the markets in France and Venice mind-boggling when it came to different types of sea critters, I think the East Coast has a far greater variety than we do on the West Coast. Whenever I visit NY I remember that even Berkeley Bowl and Tokyo Fish are limited in comparison. Local west coast mussels are starting to be farmed, and they aren't bad, but they aren't usually as good as PEI mussels. The only local hardshell clams are those tiny manila ones, and I don't think they have the taste of real east coast hardshells. And you sure can't use 'em for chowder. At Citarella there are about ten times as many types of fish as I've seen sold here.

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Hest88, I notice you are from the Bay Area too. Although I found the markets in France and Venice mind-boggling when it came to different types of sea critters, I think the East Coast has a far greater variety than we do on the West Coast.

Yes, I've noticed that as well. For instance, although I *can* get littlenecks regularly in a handful of restaurants, I can't get them as widely or as inexpensively as when I'm in NY or Boston. :sad:

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I'm on the east coast of Canada and there are plenty of marine mollusks around, but there's just no market beyond scallops, mussels, oysters and clams. There was an abalone farmer down the South Shore but he's gone tits up. At the markets you might see fresh periwinkles, maybe razor clams, Atlantic squid, that's about it. There are some canned imports from Europe, and dried stuff at the Asian market.

If I want other local mollusks, it seems I've got to get wet.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I was not raised eating mollusks so it has been a process of experimentation. I adore (corny word but I do) squid, and octopus is a close second. As someone else stated, I like the chew, and the sweetness. Scallops were an early love, but I have gotten pickier and now they have to be dry pack. Clams with plenty of butter and garlic were an easy one to embrace. Mussels I wanted to love when I saw people diving into giant bowls of them in France, but they were a hard sell because I was looking at the "parts" too much. Now I concentrate on the flavor and am happy with my own big bowl. I have been eyeballing the sea snails at my best seafood market because I see people buying pounds of them. They generally have periwinkles and sometimes the giant moon snails. I just called and they are getting a conch shipment this week which usually has some moon snails mixed in. I will check back later in the week and am determined to try them. They are huge (bigger than a golf ball). I asked another customer how he prepared them and he said they had tried repeatedly at home and it took hours to get them to an edible stage; now they let the market steam them in the big pressure steamers and he says they are great. The conch and turban snails look like something to sample as well. I think the large Asian and Hispanic population here fuels the market.

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Heidi, I have market envy. Part of the gastropod's appeal for me is their position on the food chain -- eating snails is almost vegetarian, from an ecological point of view. I admire a food culture that recognizes the value of these creatures so marginalized in my own. Please share your snail experiences!

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Heidi, I have market envy. Part of the gastropod's appeal for me is their position on the food chain -- eating snails is almost vegetarian, from an ecological point of view. I admire a food culture that recognizes the value of these creatures so marginalized in my own. Please share your snail experiences!

I will definitely share my snail experiences. The conch and moon snail are coming from the East coast. I am in Los Angeles. Consumers driving the market.

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This year I discovered the "bulot" or sea snail. LOVE them.

Never heard of bulot, what are they like?

I looked them up, sounds like Prosobranchia -- the group including conch, cowries, limpets, periwinkles, etc. Google translates bulot as whelk. Does bulot refer to any sea snail?

From what I can tell bulots are the same thing as whelks though I am not 100% sure of that. The reason I am not certain is that often, in Paris, when my husband and I have had fruit de mer plates there have sometimes been two different sea snail looking things that look similar but not identical and do not taste the same. The ones I know I like are always the ones called bulots. They have a lovely nuttiness to them. The others I was never exactly sure what they were and in fact, at one place I thought the server tried to explain that they were whelks.

Then there are periwinkles which are a whole nother thing, I think, or are they the same as whelks? I don't know but I know I had periwinkles long before I had bulots and I did not care for the periwinkles.

Then there were many different clams that we were served on the half shell. My favorite of the four or so different ones we've had at various times or even once four on the same platter, were the "praires".

As far as comparing sea snails to land snails, they are very different to me. I have an extreme dislike for land snails. I have tried them many times from those that were thought to be mediocre to those that were thought to be very good, they always taste intensely like dirt to me. They also just plain gross me out. I suppose sea snails should gross me out too but for some reason so far they haven't. Maybe if I saw one uncooked it would gross me out so here's a place where I don't mind being a little disconnected from the natural state of my food :raz:

I love oysters on the half shell and I will eat them cooked though I don't particularly enjoy them cooked.

Mussels I am not very fond of unless they are the little PEI farmed mussels. Even those I do not like as much as I used to. They are not as little and mild and tender as they used to be. The last two years I have found them much bigger than they once were and not as enjoyable. I guess I'm just not much in to mussels.

Edited by LuckyGirl (log)
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. . . As far as comparing sea snails to land snails, they are very different to me. I have an extreme dislike for land snails. I have tried them many times from those that were thought to be mediocre to those that were thought to be very good ones, they always taste intensely like dirt to me. They also just plain gross me out. I suppose sea snails should gross me out to but for some reason so far they haven't. Maybe if I saw one uncooked it would gross me out so here's a place where I don't mind being a little disconnected from the natural state of my food :raz:

I totally understand, land snails and sea snails seem worlds apart when they're food. I think the line between delicious and disgusting is so very fine with these creatures. Butter and garlic sure help.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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These were my faves "praires"

St. Germaine De 3 009.jpg

The next two pics are two other types of clams. I think we saw 5 or 6 different clams or clam-like things

St. Germaine De 3 011.jpg

St. Germaine De 3 010.jpg

These "bigorneaux" are I believe also known as "periwinkles" though the periwinkles that I was served a few years ago were a good bit smaller than these.

St. Germaine De 3 012.jpg

This was one of the best plates we had. This plate had 3 or 4 varieties of clams on the half shell.

3406845029_067705c22b.jpg

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Luckygirl, thanks for those images. Those amandes de mer (sea almonds?) look like small hard-shell clams or cherrystones. The bigorneaux must be periwinkles. I wonder how those prices are set -- supply and demand I guess.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Below is what my local periwinkles look like.

Steam them for five or more minutes, depending on size, until they're dead and the little trap doors are open. Pick them out with a toothpick and serve them with garlic and bacon over pasta.

gallery_42214_4635_95484.jpg

gallery_42214_4635_41117.jpg

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

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Moe Sizlack

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to prepare at home? Mussels.

I also love, love, love osyters. But I've never bought any at a store to take home. Typically, I can't finda good selection aroundhere anyway in stores. So, I tend to eat oysters only in restaurants.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Small cuttlefish are 25 cents apiece this week at The Frootique, so it's hello mollusks and goodbye Klatsch. Now all I have to do is figure out what to do with them. They appear to be de-beaked and entrail-free which means, at least, I won't have an ink accident. Maybe some butter and fresh pasta?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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