Published in Washington City Paper.
The Dish: Rapa whelks with J.O. mayo
Where to Get It: Eat the Rich, 1839 7th St. NW; (202) 316-9396; etrbar.com
What It Is: Rapa whelks are sea snails—the less-appreciated escargots of the ocean. Scientists discovered the invasive species, native to Asia, in the Chesapeake Bay in 1998. Now they’re caught in traps to prevent them from feasting on precious baby oysters.
What It Tastes Like: Served neither hot nor cold, these molluscs have a texture that’s similar to raw clams, but tougher and chewier. They’re sweet and mildly briny, with a taste similar to abalone. Which is probably why they’re known as “the poor man’s abalone.”
The Story: At Eat the Rich, the whelks are cleaned thoroughly and poached in wine lemon court-bouillon before being served in the shell. “Whelks are not frequently used,” says chef Julien Shapiro, “but they remind you of an old-world seafood place.” All you need is a dab of mayo mixed with a blend of fennel, celery seed, paprika, salt, and chili flakes from Baltimore-based J.O. Spice Company. “We have developed a reliable craving for J.O.,” Shapiro says. “By comparison, Old Bay is like methadone.”
How to Eat It: Use the pair of tongs Eat the Rich provides—or risk a Pretty Womanmoment by sending that shell flying.
Photo by Mary Kong-DeVito