Although tasty when cooked, periwinkles are one of the most unfamiliar and neglected seafoods. Found in the tidal zones of most coastal areas in the world, these edible sea snails pack more flavour and texture than the more familiar clams, oysters and even abalone.
They are popular in Europe and particularly in England, where they were common fare in the 19th century. There were sold by "Winkle Shops" that still continue to trade today.
In Thailand, I remember them being called "Hoy Juk." In Thai, the word "Hoy" can be applied to clams, oysters, mussels, or in this case, sea snails. The word "Juk" comes from the sound made by the act of sucking the smaller periwinkles out of their shells.
The first time I tasted the humble periwinkle was in a French restaurant as a member of the seafood platter on ice. They reminded me of the land cousins, the escargots.
Cooking and eating these sweet seafood morsels is easy. Having consumed them in different styles in different countries, I found them delicious when treated simply. Here are some of the best ways to cook and eat the periwinkle.
1) Cook the periwinkle in salted water. I purchased 500 grams of live ones in Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne and put them in a boiling pot for 5 mins. I usually put a tablespoon of rock salt to a cup of water. Then drain and pull out the tasty morsels with a small fork or toothpick. Excellent dipping sauces include Japanese wasabi and soy, Worcestershire sauce or a squeeze of lime over belacan chilli paste.
2) If you want more of an Asian flavour, you can also use Japanese or Korean miso paste in lieu of rock salt but apply 1 tablespoon to 3 cups of water. Adding some kelp after the periwinkles are done will give you a simple soup to accompany your snails. The sweetness from the periwinkle will be infused into the miso soup so you can adjust the taste by adding additional miso paste if required.
3) Stir-frying in a Chinese-style with cut red chilli and black bean sauce also works well with smaller periwinkles. The black bean sauce provides a spicy and salty dip that balances the sweetness from the periwinkle.
4) If you like escargots, a quick boil in water will allow you to dislodge the periwinkle flesh from the shell. Then it's a quick saute in butter and garlic before popping the marine escargots into your mouth.
We used to have those back on our island and my grandma would send off the kids to go pick them up. She would then clean them and cook them in a soup, like a sort of bouillabaisse, with the shell and everything. Then we all sat down and used safety pins to pull them out of their shells & eat. We would dip bread into the soup and finish it off. Amazing experience.