Periwinkles? Yes, periwinkles

Midwinter 2020

By Grace Kelly
ecoRI News staff

Why go to France for fancy escargot when the abundant local periwinkle beckons? These common seaside snails are an invasive species originally from Europe. They spend their days on briny rocks eating barnacle larvae and algae. While what few periwinkles that are harvested locally are typically exported to Asia, you may find them at Asian or Portuguese markets, or you can head to any rocky beach and “pick-your-own.” Periwinkles have a sweet, briny flavor that’s comparable to a steamer clam. The texture is soft and fairly delicate. Because of their small size, ideally they’re used as a hors d’oeuvre, but can also be added to seafood stews and sauces.

If buying from a store, look for a market with circulating water tanks, since this means they have lots of turn over and less chance of purchasing dead periwinkles. When you’re sorting through your haul, smell can give away a dead periwinkle, as can a poke to their operculum, the hatch that closes the shell. If they respond to a poke with a toothpick, they are alive. If they’re dead, the operculum is usually pulled up inside the shell. Discard dead periwinkles.

Here’s a basic steamed periwinkles recipe from the cookbook “Simmering the Sea: Diversifying Cookery to Sustain our Fisheries.”

2 lbs periwinkles, scrubbed and rinsed
1 cup white wine
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic (Tip: use a microplane)
7 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp fresh parsley, separated into stalks and leaves
1/2 pound butter, cut into cubes
Salt to taste
1 lemon, cut into quarters
Several slices of crusty sourdough bread for serving

Serves 4

Place a large saucepan over high heat on the stove. Mix periwinkles, wine, garlic, thyme, and parsley stalks in a bowl. Once the saucepan is extremely hot, add ingredients and cover. Steam for 2-3 minutes. Remove periwinkles using a slotted spoon and set aside. Lower heat to medium and reduce liquid to ¼ cup. Strain liquid into a saucepan. Over extremely low heat, whisk in butter, a few cubes at a time, until emulsified. Finely chop parsley leaves and add to the saucepan. Season with salt. Place periwinkles in a shallow serving bowl. Pour butter sauce over periwinkles and serve with lemon wedges and crusty bread. Use a toothpick to scoop out the flesh from the shells.

You can also make this recipe with clams, littlenecks, whelks, shrimp, mussels, and lobster. FMI: eatingwiththeecosystem.org.