Winkles, or periwinkles (sounds much more glamorous) are a shellfish which may have just fallen foul of the times when it comes to using them as food. Clinging to our rocks by the millions at this time of the year, they are a free food that anybody with a pair of wellies and a few eager children can collect. And they are utterly delicious.
When I was a boy, my mam used to buy us bags of boiled winkles, or 'willicks' as we Geordies call them, to eat as a 'treat'. If you have never eaten one before, they can be a tricky thing to remove from their shells. The weapon of choice when I was young was a pin. Yes, a sharp pin. After 5 minutes of tackling a tiny shell with a pin, we usually gave up and moved onto the next winkle. I reckon out of a bag of 50, we were lucky to extract 10. But when we did, we savoured each mouthful. As massive fans of The Fonz, we knew exactly why he was called Henry Winkler.
Let’s get something straight; winkles don't look in the least good. If you have ever eaten a snail, think of a smaller glossier version with a long thin curly tail (if you are lucky enough to get them out that is). But the taste, in my opinion, is delicious. Some would say they are for an acquired taste, but I leave that statement to fusspots. If you like the taste of pure sea blessed shellfish such as mussels, crabs or the winkle's bigger cousin, the whelk, you will love the winkle.
I want to try to encourage people to perhaps try and grow to love our little shore hugging friend. To bring them up to date and give them a good old makeover, I recommend patiently shelling a load of cooked winkles and tossing them into a hot pan with chilli, shallots, lemon and coriander. Served on toasts as a canapé or even as a light lunch, I think you will quickly develop that 'acquired taste' and promote the humble and unfashionable winkle to a higher level. Just replace that tongue lancing pin with a cocktail stick please...
Hot Chilli and Lemon Winkles
Feeds 2 as a lunch
1 small bag of live winkles, or if you trust your fishmonger, cooked
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 dried chilli, crumbled
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 - To prepare live winkles, simply tip into a pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and allow to cool. Remove the winkles gently from their shells and keep aside.
2 - Heat up the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the shallot, garlic and chilli and cook for 1 minute.
3 - Turn up the heat. Tip in the shelled winkles and squeeze in the lemon. Cook, stirring for a further minute.
4 - Taste for seasoning and serve on toasts with a sprinkling of fresh coriander.