Whelks appeared on the stall for the second time this year! Not to everyone's taste, least of all Bridget's! In fact while we were waiting for the 9am bell I asked Bridget how long she boils whelks for. She said: "I don't! I throw them in the bin!"
What inspired me to create this recipe? Certainly at some point I came to hear about the traditional seaside shacks selling tubs of shellfish or jellied eels dressed with malt vinegar and white pepper. And certainly I have long been familiar with the French dish of “Escargots à la Bourguignonne”: snails served with garlic and parsley butter. So, I suppose all that happened was I looked at a whelk as the sea snail that it is, and the rest of the ingredients followed.
I haven’t given quantities in most cases for this one because the ingredients can very easily be adjusted according to taste, and according to the number the dish should serve. I think this makes a simple but quite unusual starter.
Whelk Salad “Persillade”
Cooked whelks (see note), chilled
Robust lettuce leaves, e.g. cos or little gem
Other salad leaves, e.g. Frisée or rocket (optional)
Garlic cloves (approx. one per person), peeled
White peppercorns, lightly crushed
White wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and ground white pepper
1. Gently crush the garlic cloves and cut into large pieces. Put the cut garlic cloves in a ramekin or small bowl with the crushed white peppercorns, and cover with sufficient vinegar to use for a dressing. Leave to infuse for about an hour.
Meanwhile remove the whelk meats from the shells, remove any undesirable bits and chop the remaining meat into 1cm chunks.
Shortly before serving, coarsely shred the lettuce and any other salad leaves and place in a large bowl. Lightly dress with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.
Strain the vinegar into a small jug and retrieve the pieces of garlic from the strainer.
Finely chop the garlic pieces and parsley together to form the “Persillade”. Place this in a small mixing bowl and whisk in the desired quantity of the vinegar and extra virgin olive oil to form a “Persillade” dressing.
Add the whelk chunks to the leaves and drizzle the “Persillade” dressing over the salad.
Toss the salad and season with salt and ground white pepper.
I once used some whelks I had previously frozen for this recipe and was surprised to find how pleasing was the result. I have since learnt that my surprise was unwarranted and that there are some cooks who believe that freezing whelks (whether raw or cooked) improves their texture. This is discussed in “The River Cottage Fish Book” (2011) pp. 108-9. https://www.amazon.co.uk/River-Cottage-Fish-Book/dp/0747588694/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1538958001&sr=8-1&keywords=river+cottage+fish+book
Here’s an interesting article about whelks and their place on the UK culinary scene: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/whelks-are-healthy-versatile-and-sustainable-so-why-did-we-stop-eating-them-in-the-uk-9598928.html