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Nov 23, 2013 08:12 AM

The mystery of (common) whelks: how long to cook them?

I got a buncha fresh whelks here, never had them before. I read on several sites that they should soak in cold water for at least an hour before preparing but I got no idea how long to actually cook them.

I swear, I don't think I've ever seen so many different cooking times before.
Looked up different recipes, it's everything from 1 minute, 4 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 12-15 minutes, 10-15 minutes, 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 30 minutes and so on. Messed up. Hold up, let me google a random recipe; oh look a new cooking time: 25 minutes.

Got no idea what to pick...

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  1. If they are what I think they are, the small whelks about 3-4" long, smaller than scungilli whelks and larger than periwinkles, (sometimes called dog whelks), all of those recipes are correct. Maybe not 1 minute, but they don't have to be cooked long. Because they are small, they have a kind of crunchy texture that would be too hard to eat if they were as large as scungilli. But they are very forgiving, so cooking for 40 minutes won't hurt them, maybe make them less firm and crunchy. How do you intend to eat thyem? Plain? Simmer/steam for 2-4 minutes. In a sauce with other seafood? A minute or less, so they can come out of the shells easily, then toss them in whatever sauce you like.

    1. Cooking time depends on the size

      3" shell size

      Steam 5 minutes, let rest until cool enough to handle, remove from shell, leave guts, serve with butter and lemon

      Braise in teriyaki 7-10 minutes, eat hot or cold, eat all or muscle only

      Twist them out of their shells

      I have eaten larger whelks raw, muscle sliced thin, break the shell, remove whelk, cut off rear, rinse, eat immediately or let rest.

      1. Don't you love it when there is no clear solution.

        Just like the recipes, there is a lot of detail that you are leaving out. What type of whelks do you have? Down here in Florida, we have the crown and the channel whelk. Since I get 20 crown to each channel, that is my area of expertise.

        What size are they? The one inchers from tip to tip are treated differently from the 6 to 7 inchers I occasionally come across.

        So lets get started. First the soak. You need ocean water, which means 3.6% salt to water. And they need to stay in one or two days if they are the small ones and you will be eating them whole. They suck in the sand or mud and digest the organic portion, while expelling the rest. So give them plenty of time to purge. And change the water at least once a day.

        For the large ones, trust me when I say you do not want to eat the alimentary portion of the animal. Use only the meat, and treat it as you would conch. Tenderize with a hammer, dredge in cracker crumbs, and fry briefly in butter. Beat the shell with your trusty hammer to get them out, as the flesh turns to rubber if you put these large ones in boiling water.

        You can treat the small ones the same as escargot. I prefer a little wine in the water to offset any possible flavors. A bundle of parsley, oregano, and thyme is always appropriate.

        And my favorite use is in an Indian River Gumbo. Serves 12 plus.

        Dark brown roux.
        2 hardhead catfish or three stingrays filleted and chunked.
        1 to 3 dozen whelk, depending on size. Remove from shell and toss operculum and alimentary channel.
        6 blue crab, cleaned and halved. Crack claws separately.
        Box of frozen sliced okra
        finely diced onion, carrot, and celery.

        Make roux in 10 QT stockpot with half a dozen peppercorns.
        Sweat the holy trinity.
        Add about 4 cans of Louisiana wine, (Any light beer.)
        Add cleaned whelks.
        Add a few tied sprigs of your favorite herbs. Mine are above.
        Drink a beer while stirring.
        Add the catfish/ray.
        Drink another beer.
        Add fresh water, stir, and taste for seasoning. Adjust salt and pepper. Add okra. Bring back to simmer.
        Gently fold in blue crabs and claws. Simmer 10 minutes, remove from heat, and check salt one last time.
        Let stand for 20 minutes, gently stir and serve.

        Serve on Louisiana long grain rice and have Pete's Hot Sauce and fili powder available for individual preference.

        My gumbo is served slightly thickened, like heavy cream. Adjust the roux to your own predilection.

        3 Replies
        1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

          The kind is... well.. I don't know exactly. According to wikipedia they are called "common whelks" in English, more specifically, "Buccinum undatum". The shell is about 3-4 inch.

          Heh, I gotta say though, this is rather funny. I created the thread, hoping it would make things easier but so far I got one person saying 2-4 minutes, one saying (5+7) minutes and well, you're now saying that they should be soaked for days!

          I notice that recipes that don't mention a soak say that you should boil them in sea salted water. Is it possible that such a method (boiling in sea salted water) is a substitute for your method which involves soaking them in cold salted water for 1+ day?

          Also... Thanks for the recipe but I won't be making that anytime soon. :( Or well, at least not with those ingredients. Living in a place that have very bad access to seafood I don't think I've ever seen a blue crab and I doubt I could find catfish as well.

          1. re: lottobear

            The soak in the salt water is to let them purge their guts. Has nothing to do with tenderizing.

            My Gumbo is designed for fish that can take long cooking and not fall apart. Notice the whelks go in first.

            At that size, I would par-boil, remove from shell, and discard the black parts. Then chop and use any clam recipe. Go delicate on the herbs and spices so you can actually taste the whelks. Very different from clams.

            Think pasta.

          2. re: INDIANRIVERFL

            I gotta give you credit, I've lived along the Indian River my entire life and never have I seen someone come up with a decent way to use hardheads, whelks, or sting rays. Pretty darn creative and I applaud you for thinking outside the common belief that these items are inedible.

          3. I live in Maine and I PICKLE whelks. I let them purge in a lobster crate in the ocean for 2 days. I steam them for about 30 minutes. Pull them from the shell, cut the "guts" and poop vein off and soak them another 24 hours, changing the water often. Then I do the pickling thing.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jennmooremaine

              Could you please tell me exactly what you do and how you pickle them. I love them but it takes forever get the slime off after they're cooked.