Winkles

I’d like to lead a cheer for the humble Winkle. Hip, Hip, Hooray! I say, for this wonderful little mollusc. Hoorah! Hoorah! 

Winkles

Winkles are, without a doubt, the kindest pieces of protein available to the forager. They are easy to find, easy to identify and easy to gather, and it is a real shame that they are so under exploited these days as a food resource. The problem may be that they are just so fiddly to eat – if there is a knack to extracting cooked Winkles from their shells then I don’t have it. Or it may be that they just too closely resemble the Garden Snail (to which they are indeed related (and which, too, incidentally, is perfectly edible)) to render people squeamish. But please note: I will be encouraging you to give Garden Snails a try at some point in this blog, so you may want to build yourself up with a few Winkles.

Finding and Identification

The Dog Whelk and Winkle

The Dog Whelk (left) and Winkle (right).

You will have absolutely no trouble at all finding Winkles (or Periwinkles, as they are sometimes called). They are extremely common down by the seashore, and it will take probably no more than a 10 minute scramble across the rocks to gather a hundred or more. The only thing you need worry about is the state of the tide, and the cleanliness of the water (see my Molluscs entry on my Forager’s Toolkit page).

Identification is also simple – the only things you are likely to confuse your Winkles with are Dog Whelks or Top Shells – both of which are edible and just as tasty. But see my Edible Molluscs A-Z page for full pictures and description.

Picking WinklesEating

Now, I’m going to be honest with you: eating Winkles is probably more of a chore than any meal ever should be – in fact it could probably constitute its own sport. Twisting out the cooked flesh from a Winkle’s shell with a pin is an incredibly fiddly and frustrating business. But fear not, for it is invariably made enjoyable when there are a group of you all struggling together, maybe after having boiled up a batch over an open fire on the beach, with perhaps some alcoholic lubrication applied.

Crunchy Winkle Dippers with Haw SauceWinkle recipes are very few and far between – I can find none whatsoever on WordPress to direct you to, and there are only three suggestions in the books that I have on the subject. But I have located one enthusiastic forager with a few ideas, and so I divert you to WILD AND FREE to check them out. Alternatively, I have devised my own recipe for them – Crunchy Winkle Dippers – designed, admittedly, to conceal the rather grey and rubbery-slug-looking flesh that curls out of the shell (though certainly not to disguise the taste: Winkles are actually surprisingly sweet, and slightly livery). Hopefully this crispy treat may convert a few Winkle skeptics to this excellent and under-explored free meat. Go on – give them a try, and then give them a cheer!

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About J P Waldron

John Waldron is a technology and business writer for markITwrite digital content agency, based in Cornwall, UK. He writes regularly across all aspects of marketing and tech, including SEO, social media, FinTech, IoT, apps and software development.
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7 Responses to Winkles

  1. Sorry I haven´t been over here for a while! So glad I did now though. I love winkles, snails…and eating them with a pin is all part of the fun! Happy memories of eating winkles on cold, dampand windswept beaches on the southern coast of England with my grandparents as a child 🙂

  2. Paul says:

    Hi there, great post!
    I agree that winkle recipes are few and far between, which is a shame because they are so nice. Many people outside (and even inside) the UK dont even recognise what a ‘winkle’ is.

    I have a big bag of them and I think Ill cook them with some linguine pasta. I had hoped to find a sauce which uses brown crab meat (I read this is a common asian sauce), but now Ive bought the crab meat, I cant find any any reference to it anymore (typical)

    As a kid I was always told to use a needle to extract winkles, but I’ve since learnt its not the best way. Using a wooden toothpick is much easier, as it gives more grip instead of the needle just cutting through the meat. After boiling, the protective ‘foot’ can be moved out the way. Jab the toothpick in anywhere, and then after picking out the main bit, just roll the pick in your fingers to remove the last spiral bit from the shell. Much easier 🙂

  3. Hi, I tried winkles for the first time today, after gathering them on the beach yesterday (I’d rinsed them in two changes of water, but now realise that only needs to be done for 30 minutes). I enjoyed them, very like muscles, but they were sandy – any ideas on how to deal with that?

    • Ea says:

      Try giving them a little oatmeal in the water when you rinse them in water. I usually do this with muscles, so I think it will work, but have no real experience in the matter. For Muscles the oatmeal is food and they sort of spit out the sand when they eat the oatmeal.

  4. Graham Dundas says:

    We used to eat winkles, as a family, by the bucketload, having gathered them, (along with whelks mussels etc) from the extensive rock-pools on Dunnet Sands, Caithness. and I have sat many a night since the age of 3 with a pin. It’s part of the fun.

    The best way to de-grit them all, is in a large metal pail, if you have one; the larger the better. 30 mins soak in freshwater, should be fine. there should barely be a gritty one. You can give them a 2nd soak, but it shouldn’t be necessary. Try to get rid of as much of this water as possible, before putting them in boiling water.

  5. sladkosnedka says:

    Its been 30 years since l had winkles. but tomorrow l shell have them again. I remember as it was just last week my aunt use to make in tomato sauce with herbs. We jids would colect them in a bucket with fresh water. They would then be boiled quickly and cooled. Then poked out with needle. Sauted with young onion and garlic. Tomato sauce added and local herbs of the island. Bay leaf, thyme and origano. We ate them with fresh pasta. Yumm greetings from mediteranian coast.

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