Cultivated Days | Goodness abounds
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Goodness abounds

No one can deny the explosion of interest in food over the last few years. It has ushered in a general willingness to invest more in procuring seasonal and local edibles, and a euphoric visual culture that celebrates the sensuality of food (albeit in an often absurdly messy fashion). But I still sense a dearth of general kitchen skills and a pervasive clamor for quick and easy recipes. I think we’ve become better consumers, but not necessarily better cooks.


The western obsession with food coincided with my move to Japan and I’m grateful that I’ve experienced it from afar. It contrasts sharply with the culinary traditions here and observing each one provides good perspective on the other. I do think food should be, on the whole, simple. But I owe it to Japan that I don’t ascribe to any philosophy that cooking should be easy. I see no reason not to invest time and effort into the one thing that most directly impacts health and well-being, that brings families and friends together, that engages all of our senses and offers so much pleasure and intrigue in both the making and partaking. Cooking in Japan teaches you that meals should ride on the dedicated preparation of excellent ingredients that will require some work but certainly no fuss. That said, spring is a perennial busy season for us and when time feels stretched to impossible limits, something wholesome and quick is most welcome. That our busy season coincides with sazae season is a blessing.

Any of you who follow along on Instagram know that I have a special affinity for sazae, horned turban mollusks. I’m enamored of their thorny shells, their spiral shape, and the smooth interior of their operculum. I’m smitten with their unique markings, curly tails and creamy bitter taste. I’m also charmed by their ease. Sazae instantly dress up any table. They anchor whatever else you’ve got on hand and coalesce odds and ends into a meal.

So despite the busyness, with the cherry trees in full bloom, the taranome out, and sazae in season, goodness abounds.



Rinse well and scrub the shells with a brush.
Set in a strainer while you prepare a steamer pot large enough to accomodate them.
When the water is boiling, shake out any excess water and place the sazae opening up in the steamer.
Cover, reduce the flame to low, and steam for 8 minutes.
Towards the center of the mollusk, gently tuck a metal pick under the operculum and twirl the shell as you pry out the meat.
Serve with either of the following:
* olive oil and salt
* compound shiso butter

Another option:

After 6 minutes in the steamer, remove the operculum and spoon in a mixture of one of the following:
*chopped parsely and garlic mixed with olive oil
*chopped nira mixed with olive oil
Steam another two minutes and serve.

Be sure to drink any of the bitter briny liquid left in the shell.


  • Alana VanDerwerker
    Posted at 12:20h, 05 April

    Your succinct and thoughtfully worded paragraph sharing your philosophy of cooking as the essential of living well touches my spirit deeply. Thank you for the exquisite photograph portraits of the mollusks and blooming trees, and of all the other places and situations where you bring to bear your sensitive eyes and spirit. I think about our bounty of mollusks here in Maine and rejoice. I need to give myself the task of bringing some home in a small basket.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 07:09h, 07 April

      Would love to harvest some Maine mollusks with you someday, Alana!

  • Tomo Makiura
    Posted at 21:52h, 06 April

    Dear P-ko chan,
    These are most beautiful pictures of Sazae which is one of my favorite of memory with my father !
    I am not sure when can I go back to Karatsu, but looking for next trip.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 07:10h, 07 April

      Tomo, how sweet that this reminds you of your father! We too are looking forward to your next trip to Karatsu. Or Maine!

  • Elaine
    Posted at 15:57h, 07 April

    I love this post and the way you’ve shown sazae in such a beautifully sculptural way. As a fellow snail lover, I’ve always wished for more snail in the local cuisine here in Maine. I used to harvest in Lincolnville, but there are so many pollution closures, I’ve sadly had to stop.

    • Prairie
      Posted at 06:47h, 08 April

      Elaine, thank you for the kind words! I wish we could go snail hunting together in Maine. Are there really none to be had anymore? It’s a similar situation here. Just this morning, as we were driving by an rather muddy looking estuary, my mother in law Kuniko told me about how she used to collect freshwater clams there with her father as a kid but from the looks of it, you certainly wouldn’t want to today… Disheartening.

  • Sparrow
    Posted at 21:02h, 19 April

    Gorgeous photos, Prairie!!

    And I guess I should know what an operculum is., but…