Whelks… hmmmm. From my childhood all I can say is, YUCK!
I love British seaside food and summers spent on the beaches of Kent and Sussex. For me it's all about fish n’ chips and ice cream! Not chewy, slimey 'things' covered in vinegar, although I can vaguely remember my brother daring/telling/forcing me (probably all of them at the same time) to try one, I was only seven and the blood still runs deep... No wonder I was a bit scarred when I heard what I was soon to do.
See the thing is when you mention whelks to people that is exactly what they think of, a snail type thing served in a polystyrene cup with vinegar from the 60’s and 70’s.
But there's more to the whelk than meets the eye. In the UK 20,000 tonnes of them are landed each year and we are not eating them, so where are they going? The answer is... they mostly end up in soy sauce or canned as bar snacks in the far east. So are we missing a trick when it comes to the whelk? I was lucky enough to be sent by BBC Food and Drink to Weymouth to investigate that very question.
On arriving in this great thriving fishing port town we popped over to the beach to sample whelks in their classic British seaside serving (forced to eat by my director, George) but I still was not convinced. They were chewy, covered in black spots and nothing to taste apart from vinegar, I thought I was seven years old again (Director George also commented that my behaviour was very much that of a seven year old ;).
But luckily enough our next stop was Crab House Café where I was introduced to chef owner, Nigel Bloxham. He LOVES whelks or ‘sea snails’ as he calls them, (interestingly I later find out if you put ‘Sea Snails’ on a menu instead of ‘Whelks’ they will sell out) and he wants to encourage us to eat more whelks. Nigel even helped launch the ‘Great British Whelk Revival’.
Nigel explains to me that they are full of nutrients, environmentally-friendly and because they grow naturally at sea it gives them a lovely sweet flavour that works great with strong flavours like chilli and garlic. He cooks me a dish very similar to French snails with garlic butter but with our very own, British whelks. He slices them and suddenly they don’t resemble anything whelk-like, fries them in butter, garlic and parsley, with a squeeze of lemon then serves it with a massive hunk of crusty brown bread. They are sweet, succulent and tasty. I LOVE IT! Thirty years later, I am now converted!
Nigel was kind enough to share his recipe featured below, why not give it a go...
Catch it TODAY on BBC Food & Drink, January 23rd at 8:30 or after on catch-up HERE >>
NIGEL'S WHELKS WITH GARLIC & PARSLEY BUTTER
- 2kg whelks (sea snails) with shells on or 500g shelled
- 250g garlic and parsley butter
- 1 lemon
- bread (to mop up all those lovely juices)
Take the whelks out of the shell.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, then add the whelks. Keep them just barely simmering for about 10 minutes. This cooks them right through.
Take them out and drain. Slice them up so they don't look like whelks anymore, which is a good trick!
Fry the sliced whelks in a frying pan with a knob of garlic and parsley butter. As soon as the butter has melted, squeeze the juice of the lemon over and serve with bread.
*For more information on Nigel's cookbook visit HERE