Tag Archives: Palmaria palmata

Slipper Limpets with dulse garlic butter


Atlantic Slipper Limpet (Crepidula fornicata)

It is so often the case with wild food that responsible collecting behaviour requires you only to take what you need, and leave the rest for nature. Exactly the opposite is true is when the species you are after is an invasive alien, and in a few cases these invasive species are first class edibles. The perfect example is the Atlantic Slipper Limpet (Crepidula fornicata).

Slipper Limpets are native to the Atlantic coast of North America. They have been repeatedly introduced to northern Europe, the first record being in 1872 in Liverpool Bay. They are now very common along the entire southern coastline of Great Britain, from Pembrokeshire to The Wash. Where conditions are to their liking, their numbers can increase to plague proportions, and they cause serious problems for native filter-feeding marine molluscs, especially oysters. Slipper Limpets both out-compete the native species for food, and smother them in the fine silt they eject after feeding. In the worst cases, their presence has resulted in the total destruction of important oyster fisheries.

Washed slipper limpets with fresh dulse

They are under-utilised as a food resource. There is apparently no commercially viable market for them, which causes fishermen problems, since it is illegal to return them to the water if they are dredged up as bycatch. It is not clear why this should be, since they are very tasty and highly regarded in as food in a few places. They are not tough like Common Limpets (Patella vulgata). They are in season from early autumn until early spring. It is best practice not to collect them for food during the summer, because as filter feeders there is a greater possibility that they have been consuming toxic algae. Now (late April) is a good time.

Slipper Limpets with dulse garlic butter

They can be found in sandy or muddy areas during low tides. They are easily recognised by their distinctive shell shape and their tendency to live in stacks. The creatures change sex during their lifetime. They start out male, with the smaller males attaching frequently themselves to the top of an existing stack. As they get larger, with more and more smaller individuals on top of them, they turn into females, so they are continually next to a mate (hence the specific epithet “fornicata”). These stacks are permanent – the slipper limpet’s shell grows to exactly fit whatever they are attached to, so after a while it becomes impossible for them to find anywhere else to attach to. Being dislodged is therefore fatal, since they are totally exposed to predation, which means you often find a detached stack where the bottom-most shell is empty.

More frequently the bottom limpet is attached to a large pebble, and this poses a challenge when collecting them. Since you do not want to end up having to carry a load of pebbles around, you need to separate the stack of limpets from the pebble, and this can only be done quickly. You need to creep up on them and grab the whole stack, then immediately rip the bottom limpet from the pebble. Within two or three seconds, if you have not succeeded in doing so, the limpet will clamp down and it becomes much more difficult.

A cocktail stick is sometimes required to extract the internal part of the slipper limpet, which easily breaks off of the foot.

When you’ve finished collecting, you should give them a good rinse in clear seawater. When you get your haul back home, wash them again in fresh water. You do not need to leave them sitting in salt water overnight as is recommended for some other marine molluscs (such as winkles). They can be eaten raw, but it to be 100% safe it is surely best to cook them. They only need brief cooking. I usually just boil them for two or three minutes.

They should be served with garlic butter, with a bit of salt and pepper (and not too much garlic). The perfect finishing touch, if it is available from the same beach, is some finely chopped Dulse (Palmaria palmata) in the garlic butter. This red seaweed adds a lovely umami taste which does not overpower the abalone-like taste of the slipper limpets.

Pepper Dulse – Spice of the Sea

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Laver (Porphyra sp.)

Laver (Porphyra sp.)

I’ve just returned from a week’s holiday in Pembrokeshire, much of which I spent wandering about near-deserted beaches at low tide in search of seaweed – specifically in search of really nice photos of edible seaweeds. Pembrokeshire is, of course, famous for one particular edible seaweed that is an essential traditional component of a Full Welsh Breakfast: Laver. When exposed on the rocks, Laver can look uncannily like the monster “Scaroth” from classic Doctor Who serial “City of Death”, but fortunately it’s rather more edible and highly nutritious. “Laver Bread” is made by simmering the seaweed (which must be repeatedly washed to get rid of the sand) for six hours, before mixing with oats and frying. Perfect for a slow cooker.

Dulse (Palmaria palmata)

Dulse (Palmaria palmata)

But it was Pepper Dulse I was really after. This is not to be confused with Dulse, to which it is not closely related and does not even vaguely resemble. Dulse is another famous edible seaweed, generally associated with Ireland more than Wales, but common around most of the coasts of the British Isles and very abundant in Pembrokeshire. Dulse is edible raw, with a strong “umami” flavour and a gently chewy texture, but is more often dried – like crisps before crisps, but better – or fried, or used in stocks and broths… The most obvious visual difference between Dulse and Pepper Dulse is the size of the fronds. Dulse is much bigger and noticeable. It can also be found much more easily further up the beach.

Pepper Dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida)

Pepper Dulse can be a more elusive quarry. I found it on several Pembrokeshire beaches, but on each occasion it only became obvious in the half hour or so around low tide. It is also easily missed unless you know what you’re looking for – especially in terms of its size. It superficially looks a lot like any number of small, frilly, red seaweeds (although it is not always red, particularly if it is higher up the beach). You’ll know instantly that you’ve found Pepper Dulse though, the moment you smell it or taste it. “Truffle of the Sea” (as it has been described elsewhere on the internet) is a bit misleading, but it certainly qualifies as “Spice of the Sea”. It is at its strongest nibbled raw, when it has a taste and smell that is something like a mixture of garlic, pepper and some of the more aromatic fungi in the genus Lactarius (the spicy milkcaps).

Collecting it can be a bit of a bind, especially if the tide has rendered you short of time or you are knee deep in the waves. But simply ripping it off the rocks is counter-productive, because you’ll end up with loads of the wrong sorts of seaweed, as well as bits of rock and sand. Ripping the holdfast off also prevents it from regrowing, and you will need to remove it later anyway. A sturdy pair of scissors are the best option.

If you aren’t going to eat it fresh then Pepper Dulse can be dried and powdered, at which point it becomes a spice to rival anything you’ll find in a traditional curry recipe. The only problem is that it tends to lose some of its potency and you’ll need to collect quite a lot of it in order to end up with a decent amount of dried seaweed spice. As things stand this seaweed is still relatively unknown as an edible species. I suspect as the foraging revolution continues to gain pace, it won’t remain overlooked for much longer. It is unquestionable the most flavoursome edible European seaweed, and everything about it suggests it has a bright culinary future.



I didn’t spend the entire week on a beach. I also went sea fishing – something I have relatively little experience of. Most of the fish weren’t biting, but I did get lucky with quite a few members of the shark family, most notably the Nursehound. This species is one of several sold in fish and chip shops under the name “huss” (it is also called “Bull Huss”). Traditionally it was not just eaten, but its skin used as a high quality and extremely expensive alternative to sand paper. I learned about this the hard way, the skin on my hands being ripped to shreds as I skinned the biggest of the day’s catch. Most of the others were returned to the reef.

I have to say that my first visit to Pembrokeshire is unlikely to be my last. There’s a reason why it is the only coastal national park in Britain – the geology is spectacular. It is also the perfect playground for a forager. Cornwall without the crowds.