One of our more unusual recipes, this one deals with sea snails, something a lot of people have doubts about preparing or cooking, but something perfect for grilling, or at least finishing on the grill. You can get sea snails, also known as whelk or ‘poor man’s abalone’ cooked or fresh (and live). Don’t be put off by the term ‘poor man’s abalone’ though because whelks are delicious when prepared right. They are similar to conch but not the same animal. Sea snails have a big spiral shell and are available year round, although they are believed to be tastier if caught during the winter months.
To avoid the flesh getting rubbery whelks only need about 10 minutes cooking time, and you can boil, steam, stir-fry, or barbeque them. If you are dealing with live sea snails, put them in boiling water for 3 minutes and then you can pull the meat out of the shell. Only use the firm white meat. The black part tastes bitter (although they eat it in Japan).
This versatile shellfish is popular all over the world and, like octopus or squid, may be slow cooked or briefly cooked, but nothing in between the two else it will come out tough. They are often grilled on skewers in Japan, chopped up to make fritters in the West Indies, and pan-fried in the UK. Sea snails have a sweet, oceanic flavor, and they are a bit chewy. Unless you are buying canned or frozen ones, ensure the animals are alive when you buy them. This applies to all shellfish actually.
More Tips about Cooking Whelks
The aroma of fresh live sea snails is fresh and pleasant so double-check before you pay for them. This shellfish is sometimes boiled for 10 minutes, then tossed with vinegar and served as part of a seafood platter. They can also be stewed for a long time since the slow cooking will make them tender too, and then you can serve them in a sauce. Keep them cool and they will live up to 5 days, else shuck them, boil them for 7 minutes and then freeze them if you want to keep them for longer. The part of a whelk you eat is the creamy flesh, so cut off the gut where the muscle begins and all the non-muscle bits too including the digestive tract. Whelks taste a bit like crab although the texture is more squid-like.
The following recipe uses live whelks, first boiling them in their shells to get any bits of sand or grit out, and then you will cook them briefly in garlic and chili, as well as a splash of wine. Thread them on to skewers and finish them off over a hot barbeque. This will give them a special smoky aroma and char them slightly. If you are using pre-cooked or canned sea snails, they only need to be heated on the barbeque, rather than cooked, so just pour over some white wine (or sake if you prefer an Asian flavor) and cook them for a minute or two, just until they are warmed through.
- 3 lbs live sea snails in their shells
- 2 fl oz olive oil
- 8 fl oz white wine
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- 1 chopped fresh chili pepper (optional)
- 8 bamboo skewers
- Soak bamboo skewers in cold water for 30 minutes and get the barbeque nice and hot.
- Boil the sea snails in water for 20 minutes to get the grit and sand out of the shells and cook the meat.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan and sauté the chili (if using) and garlic.
- Add the snails and wine and cook for 2 minutes.
- Remove the whelks from their shells, chop off the black part and thread them on to the skewers.
- Finish them off on the grill, turning often, to give them a smoky flavor and char them in places.
- Serve right away.
This unusual grilled sea snail recipe features shellfish which is flavored with white wine, chili and garlic. They are cooked in their shells then finished off on skewers (for easy rotating) on the barbeque to make use of the smoky aroma. Because they are only finished off on the barbeque, you might want to make this if you already have a hot grill for burgers or steaks, unless you think it is worth firing it up just to finish these off. The flavor will be oceanic and slightly sweet, and the texture is similar to squid. Do not overcook these else you risk them coming out rubbery instead of lovely.
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