Cartrut Shell (Dicathais orbita): ‘poor man’s crab cakes’ for Christmas
December 24, 2012 by Oliver Brown
Cartrut shell (Dicathais orbita)
In the lead up to Christmas, Sydney has turned on some classic Australian summer. So as coasters, we have been in the water snorkelling. Along the way I’ve casually pocketed some cartrut shells (Dicathais orbita) on a couple of offshore ventures (plus a couple of Spengler’s triton (Cabestana spengleri)). Legal bag limits and their abundance would have allowed for a lot more, but I’m on holiday and opting for light duties. They have been brought home, boiled and removed from the shell, minced and put into a recipe that essentially replaces the crab in crab cakes. Both cartruts and tritons are carnivorous sea snails and genuinely do have a slightly crabby taste to them. But not at all a crabby texture, hence the mincing.
These will come with me to the family Christmas day to be served as a canapé somewhere in among the day’s feasting. ‘Poor man’s crab cakes’ though they may be, if you get them right they are a genuine delicacy.
The name ‘cartrut shell’ comes from the distinctive lines on the shell that look like wheel tracks. The shells are boiled for 10 minutes and the meat can then be picked from the shell with a fork. If you can’t quite get to some meat with a fork or skewer, you can usually dislodge them a bit by holding the shell tight and flicking your wrist hard in a downward motion (into the sink).
Once out of the shell, trim off the guts, the head and the hard bits and put the remaining meat through a mincer.
Once the meat is through the mincer, follow it with some bread to get the last of the meat through. From here you can just use a favoured crab or fish cake recipe or find one online. Largely due to what is in my cupboards and herb garden, mine was chives, some caramelised onion, garlic, dried lemon zest, chillies, parsley and half a kaffir lime leaf. Mix through an egg or two and a dollop of sour cream until it is a fairly runny mix and then bring back to a consistency that can be hand moulded into patties by mixing in bread crumbs.
Pan fry the cakes until browned on both sides and put in a moderate oven for another 15 minutes to finish cooking the egg through. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce (or sambal oelek or a hot sauce if you like some heat; and if you don’t, the salty hit of some fish roe works well).