[Littorina littorea (common periwinkle) and related Littorina
These small snails can get as large as 2 inches long, but the largest in
the batch pictured to the left were about 1.2 inches, fairly typical of
the commercial product.They live mainly in the surf zone of rocky
coastlines so their shells are quite thick and often worn. The best
known periwinkle, L. littorea, is native to the North Atlantic shores
of Europe but seems to have made it to North America fairly early, some
say with Scandinavians who were known to have cut timber for export to
Iceland as far south as New Jersey well before Columbus' voyage. This
species is now also found on the East Pacific coast, from Washington state
to California. Other
species live worldwide and vary considerably in shape and decoration.
Buying: These can be found in Asian markets that have
circulating water tanks. There are about 78 snails per pound. The photo
specimens to the left were purchased from a large Asian market in
Los Angeles (Alhambra) for 2017 US $3.99 / pound. They were product of
sf_gpperiz 061025 r 170612 - www.clovegarden.com
Probe under operculum
Follow the natural curve
Draw it all out
A done deed
Periwinkles are something you eat for entertainment while conversing
with friends or listening to music. You'll pretty much starve if you
depend on them for significant nutrition - they're tasty, but there's
really not a lot in there, and what there is takes some effort to get
out. While preparing this article I ate 151 of them and it was not at
all filling. With practice you can eat about 150 an hour.
It may look like way too much trouble to eat them at first, but with
just a bit of practice you'll be zipping the little critters out of their
shells without even thinking about it.
It's best to buy your periwinkles from a reliable source with plenty of
turn-over to assure a minimum of dead ones. Usually this will be an Asian
market with circulating water tanks.
- determine if your periwinkles are alive or dead. Rinse them and pour
them out into a tray, wet, but with no free water. Let them rest for
a while. Most will relax and open their shells a bit. If they respond to
a poke on the operculum (the door that closes the shell) they are alive.
If they try to crawl away they're definitely alive. If they don't open
up at all, turn them over for awhile and give them some time. They will
not open if their shell is full of water. If they're dead, the
operculum is usually pulled way back inside. A sniff test can often
confirm that one is dead - discard dead ones. Commercially, "climb tanks"
are used. The snails that climb are alive, those that don't are
presumed dead. A recent purchase had 7 presumed dead out of 259 snails.
- Place the live snails in a large bowl, and fill with cold water to
cover. Tumble them around with your hands for a minute or so, then
drain. Repeat 2 more times. Cover them again with cold water and
let them stay for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Drain, rinse and drain again.
- Prepare a light sauce, maybe a lemon butter sauce with white wine.
Dipping these tiny critters individually in a sauce is quite a hassle
so you probably want to just cook them in the sauce. We have a recipe
Periwinkles in Coconut Milk
with a more complex sauce.
- Bring the sauce to a boil and pour in the snails. Bring it back to a
boil and simmer, tumbling the snails often, until they pull out of their
shells easily, from 3 to five minutes.
- Strain the snails out onto a plate or shallow bowl. Pick them up
individually and pry them out of their shells as shown in the photos.
Go deep and in the direction shown in the first photo. You'll quickly
get a hang of how to get under the operculum and draw them out against
the natural curve of their shell. Some people suck on the shell
aperture first, which may move the snail farther out.
- The last photo shows a disassembled periwinkle. The spiral part is the
digestive organs, gonads and other items which you may eat or discard
depending on your attitude towards such things. The firm black and white
foot to the right is the meaty part. Remember to remove the operculum
(the little disk to the upper right) before eating.
This photo shows a Periwinkle Tool I made from coat hanger wire. It is
more effective than toothpicks for hooking the beast out of the shell,
but you'll still lose a few that slip too far back into the shell. The
hook on the business end has to be very short or it won't be able to
maneuver inside the shell.
©Andrew Grygus - firstname.lastname@example.org - Photos
on this page not otherwise credited © cg1
- Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted