COURTESY OF ISLAND OPIHI CO.
Kauai-based Island Opihi Co. is importing limpets, a relative of opihi, from Ireland for use in luaus. Here, opihi in their shells are shown on a reef.
Irish opihi fills gaps at isle tables
A Kauai company is importing the limpets from Ireland
WAILUKU » Noelani Josselin said she was with surfer friend Patrick Murphy in Ireland when they noticed a seabed of what looked like opihi as the sea receded at low tide.
They turned out to be a relative called limpets.
An old Irishman told them that residents no longer gathered and ate the "barnacs" as they did during the great famine when there were no sheep or cows.
"I was just so amazed there was just so much opihi," Josselin recalled. "My wheels started spinning and one thing led to another."
Josselin, owner of Kauai-based Island Opihi Co., is importing the opihi's Irish cousin -- about 1,000 pounds every two months -- and selling most of them to organizers of luaus.
"When they try it, they say, 'Wow, this is really good,'" Josselin said.
"We keep bringing more in."
The importation of the limpets comes when the Legislature has passed a bill to ban the commercial sale of opihi. The measure is sitting on Gov. Linda Lingle's desk. She has until Monday to tell lawmakers what bills she might veto.
Legislators say overharvesting has depleted opihi on Oahu and easily accessible areas on the neighbor islands.
Under state law, opihi shells must be at least 1.25 inches wide, or the meat must be at least a half-inch wide, to be legally harvested in Hawaii.
There are four main species of opihi found in the Hawaiian Islands, including the blackfoot Cellana exarata, also known as makaiauli and once the most common limpet in Hawaiian waters.
Other limpets include C. talcosa, known as the kneecap opihi; C. melanostoma, found on Kauai; and the popular yellowfoot C. sandwicensis, or alinalina, which is the preferred species for eating.
Josselin said the Irish cousin, Patella vulgata, closely resembles the yellowfoot C. sandwicensis.
Both the Irish and Hawaiian limpets have cap shells and grow on rocks along the shoreline.
Picking opihi in Hawaii can be dangerous because the limpets are often found along rocky cliffs and the roughest parts of the coastline where there are huge wave surges.
Josselin said pickers in Ireland also face ocean dangers, mainly from tides that can rise to 12 feet.
She said Irish people familiar with the ocean tides and certified as lifeguards pick the limpets for her company.
Her company has been selling the Irish limpets for $250 a gallon or 8 pounds, with each pound equivalent to about 120 to 130 limpets, she said.
Tamashiro Market on Oahu says that when opihi is available, it usually goes for $29.95 a pound.
Josselin, a former co-owner of A Pacific Cafe in South Maui, said while Japanese visitors seem to like the product, she has faced some challenges in expanding her market to mainland tourists and European-trained chefs unfamiliar with the preparation.
She has been working on a book of recipes.
Besides the traditional Hawaiian preparation of paa kai or Hawaiian salt, she adds various limu or seaweed, as well as other garnishes. There is limpets teriyaki style, with ginger, soy sauce and a little bit of chili and sugar.
She has prepared it European style with garlic and butter, and Filipino style with ginger, tomatoes, onions and patis boiled in a broth.
Her nouveau cuisine preparation includes the opihi in a green papaya and ogo salad with tomatoes.
Contact Josselin by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 808-634-2007.