Periwinkles have been gathered from the shore for food by people for hundreds of years, usually picked off the rocks by hand or caught in a "drag" by fishermen in a boat. In Britain and Ireland where they are commonly referred to as "winkles" they are sold in paper bags at Irish beaches, usually salted, with a pin attached to the bag to assist extracting the winkle from the shell. In Belgium, they are also eaten, and referred to as "crickles". In African and Asian cuisine they are considered in certain parts to be a delicacy. The meat is high in protein but low in fat content - the raw snails generally made up of 80% water, 15% protein, and 1.4% fat.
Washed and cleaned periwinkles ready for cooking
My first encounter with the strange snail looking mollusk was at Adelaide's Central Market two weeks ago. Overwhelmed with curiosity I was on a mission to find periwinkle recipes, however I found that it is not a mollusk that is commonly eaten. I did find a Portuguese style stew with chorizo and pork that sounded interesting on a blog called Three Tastes. This recipe is an adapted version of the same. I did not use pork with all the recent news reports blaring swine flu epidemic, although I am sure it would have added more flavour to the stew.
Ingredients: The Sauce -2 chorizo (200g), cut into diagnoal slices, 450g pork tenderloin or shoulder, cut in 1-inch cubes, olive oil, 1 large onion, diced, 3 cloves garlic, minced, 2-3 small bay leaves, 3 tsp. sweet or hot smoked paprika, 340-420g chopped and seeded tomatoes, 1- 1.5 cups (240-350ml) dry white wine, (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinto Gris), 1/4 cup (10g) minced flat-leaf parsley, divided, sea salt (depending on the saltiness of the chorizo)
The crustaceans - 1-1.5kg Manila or littleneck clams or Mussels, scrubbed and rinsed (throw away any that do not close when tapped), 450g periwinkles, cleaned, Lemon quarters
Method: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, fry chorizo in a smidgen of oil, until browned. Remove to bowl. Tip out oil in pan, but do not wash. In same pan, add 2 tblsp olive oil and brown pork in 2-3 batches, removing each batch to the bowl with chorizos to keep warm.In the same pan, turn heat down to medium-low and saute onions until translucent (about 8-10 minutes). Add garlic and bay leaves, and cook until garlic is fragrant. Add paprika and peppers, if using, stir through and cook 1 minute. Turn heat back up to medium-high and add wine, tomatoes and half the amount of parsley. Bring sauce just to the boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes while you prepare the crustaceans.
Taste sauce and adjust seasoning. Bring heat up to medium again, return chorizos and pork to pan, and add clams, stir through and cover. Cook for approximately 10 minutes. Add periwinkles, cover again and cook another 8 minutes. To check if mollusks are cooked, wait until all the mussels have opened their shells and for the periwinkles a little shell that looks like a circular plug should pop off, once this happens they are ready. If the little shell lid does not pop off you cannot extract the meat from inside.
Without opening cover, turn off heat and keep pan covered while plates/bowls are warmed and table is set. Just before serving, add last of parsley and squeeze lemon juice over.
My verdict, the shells looks pretty but as far as flavour goes, there isn't anything to write home about. The top fatter 'head' of the periwinkle is slightly chewy and rubbery in texture, while the curly lower portion or 'tail' is comparatively softer, a few chomps and it becomes a smooth paste reminiscent of fish roe. While its worth a try, periwinkles proved to be hiding nothing unique nor interesting flavour within it's coiled shell.