The Common Periwinkle, Littorina littorea, is a type of sea snail found in the Northern Atlantic Ocean. While they are native to European coastlines, they are now found in abundance along the Eastern shores of the United States and Canada.
It isn’t clear how periwinkles were introduced to the New World, the most common theory is that they came over mixed in with rocks that were used as ballast for ships. When the ballast was discarded, the mollusk went with it, and established themselves in the new waters.
They were first discovered in Canada in the mid nineteenth century, and have made they way as far as south as Maryland. Periwinkles have pointed, whorled shell that averages about an inch long and three quarters of an inch wide.
The color of the shells is varied, but the specimens we find on the Vineyard tend towards a mix of mostly black and dark brown.
Periwinkles are found in the intertidal zone, as well as salt marshes and tidal pools. They generally prefer rocky shores, where they use their foot to attach themselves to rocks, but you can find them attached to wooden pilings as well. If you’re looking for periwinkles on the Vineyard, any of the rocky jetties are a good place to look.
These sea snails can be prepared like regular escargot, or used like clams, in chowders and fritters. We came across this recipe for Mussels with Coconut Curry Sauce on epicurious, and decided to try it with periwinkles instead. The recipe calls for two pounds of mussels, but we quartered the recipe, as gathering two pounds of periwinkles seemed a bit excessive. We made sure to give the snails a good rinse in cold water and let them drain in a colander, while we went ahead with the rest of the recipe. When it came time to add them to the pot, we brought the sauce to a simmer and then cooked the periwinkles for 3 to 5 minutes. Unlike, mussels which will open when cooked, the periwinkles don’t have a built-in indicator of doneness. That said, they are very small, so take care not to over cook them, as they will become chewy.
To remove the meat from the shells, you first remove the operculum, the hard “door” that protects the snail’s foot, it looks a bit like a fish scale. Next, take a toothpick (or safety pin) and use it to pull the meat from the shells. Repeat. Periwinkles have a mild briny flavor, with a touch of sweetness, think quahog, but less intense.
The sauce of butter, coconut milk and curry powder pairs perfectly with the small snails, rich and spicy, with a bright hit of lemon and parsley. We spooned the mixture onto crusty bits of toast to provide a bit of texture. The recipe was so good, we soon found ourselves wishing we had made more, as we sopped up all the remaining sauce with bread. They may look a bit strange, and they do require some effort, but they are pretty easy to find, fun to collect, and well worth it.
If you liked this post check out our other articles on Martha’s Vineyard, Bay Scallops, Oyster Soup, Mole Crabs, and Sweet Meat (slipper shells). Help support Hungry Native with AMAZON.COM, we receive a very small percentage of anything you buy through this link. Thank you! For more photos from this post and others, head over to our Facebook page WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/HUNGRYNATIVE
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