Many of us have fond memories of visiting the seaside and buying some seafood from a stall. You then douse it in white pepper and vinegar and enjoy the taste of freshly caught and cooked shellfish. You taste prawns, mussels, cockles, winkles and for the brave souls among us whelks.
You catch whelks using baited traps called pots on the sea bed. Experienced fishermen say that whelks are attracted to a bait mixture of fish and dead crabs.
Since 2017 there are strict rules in place governing pot design and landing sizes. A minimum shell size of 53mm is mandatory around the Kent and Essex coasts since 2020.
The trouble with whelks is that you have to really like them as it can take a good few minutes to chew them. In my past experience, they are rubbery and fairly tasteless.
Whelks used to be a very common foodstuff for the poor in some parts of Victorian London. They were cheap and nutritious. In more recent times they have fallen out of fashion, but we still land about 10,000 tonnes of them a year in the UK, of which 95% go for export to the far east.
In South Korea, they are a regular foodstuff, even sold as an aphrodisiac. Although to be fair their dishes do seem to contain a fair bit of fresh chilli, root ginger and soy sauce to enhance the flavour.
So next time you visit the seashore, find some rocks, search them out, and give this stir-fry a go. You will never look at a whelk the same way again.
Stir Fried Whelks
- 500 g Whelks fresh if available
- 2 tbsp Rape seed oil
- 250 g Bamboo shoots thinly sliced
- 2 cloves Garlic sliced
- 1 Red chilli sliced
- 5 cm Cooking chorizo chopped
- 1 tbsp Ginger grated
- 2 tbsp Soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp Sesame oil
- 1 bunch Spring onions sliced
- ½ bunch Coriander chopped
- Thin egg noodles
- 3 tbsp Peanut oil
To cook fresh whelks
- Tenderise the whelks by placing them in a freezer at least overnight.
- Place the whelks in a pan of cold water and bring it up to a gentle simmer, do not let it boil or they will become tough and rubbery. Simmer for 15 minutes and then remove from the heat and allow the whelks to cool in the cooking water.
- Once cooked, pull the whelk out of the shell, remove the little plastic-like disc on the foot end, remove the stomach sack and a small bit of muscle (identifiable by its feeling tougher than the rest of the whelk) and they are done.
For the stir fry
- Thinly slice the whelks. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat, add the sliced whelks and bamboo shoots and stir fry for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the wok and set aside.
- Return the wok to the heat and add the garlic, chilli, chorizo and ginger. Stir fry for a further 2-3 minutes, then add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil.
- Return the whelks and bamboo shoots to the wok and stir fry for another 2-3 minutes, or until the liquid in the wok has thickened and coats the whelks. Add most of the spring onions and coriander, tossing well to mix through. Set aside.
- Blanch the noodles in a large pan of boiling water for 2-3 minutes, or until just tender. Drain well and set aside.
- Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and add 1½ tbsp's of the peanut oil. Evenly spread the drained noodles over the base of the pan,then turn the heat to low and allow the noodles to gently fry for 4-5 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the bottom.
- Gently flip the noodles over, adding another 1½ tbsp's of the oil to the pan. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes, or until the noodles are golden brown and crisp all over. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen roll.
- Place the noodles in the middle of a warm plate and spoon the whelks and bamboo shoots on top. Garnish with the reserved spring onions and coriander.