The common periwinkle (Littorina littorea) is an edible species of marine snails that can be commonly found in northern Europe. In the Netherlands, where I am from, these little sea snails go by many names : alikruiken, kreukels, karakol, or krukels. While researching on how people usually prepare these little snails I learned that in the province of Zeeland in the south-west of the Netherlands many people actually go periwinkle harvesting around Easter time. As it turns out, a typical traditional Zeeuws Easter breakfast is krukels mie krentenbrood, meaning: periwinkles on currant bread. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?
This tradition of periwinkle harvesting and consuming them in this particular manner is not common in the rest of The Netherlands (where you’re more likely to find periwinkles as part of a cold fruits de mer platter) and I’m not sure if it’s that common in Zeeland anymore either, which is why I thought I’d dedicate a small blogpost to this little marine delicacy (despite not hailing from the province myself).
How to prepare and consume periwinkles?
As stated: in the Netherlands, common periwinkles are usually found on or between rocks along the coast of Zeeland, but they can also be found on the coasts of the United Kingdom, Belgium, and France (and elsewhere, I assume). While in the Netherlands it’s a tradition to go periwinkle harvesting around Easter, the snails are usually a bit small around this time of year and I’ve read they’re better harvested a month or two after Easter time.
After harvesting the snails, which is done by handpicking each little snail one by one by the way, they need to be scrubbed and purged of sand, grit and other nasties by placing them in some clean salted water for a few hours or overnight.
The cleaned snails are then boiled with a generous amount of black pepper and salt (or a simple vegetable stock made with bay leaf, onion, celery and/or parsley), and chilled and eaten cold with the aforementioned sweet currant bread or simply as they are with a nice glass of wine. The ‘currant bread’ here, by the way, is a type of raisin bread made with Zante currant, or Corinth raisin, a type of raisin made from dried, black Corinth grapes, not blackcurrants or similar berries (though, I suppose, any not-overly sweet raisin bread will do). The bread is often slathered with salted butter as well.
The combination of slightly-sweet currant- or raisin bread with sea snails may sound and perhaps taste a bit odd for those not (yet) used to it, but it really is worth a try. When the snails are well-seasoned with salt and pepper, the combination of their soft, briny meat really does go very well with the sweet Corinth raisins in the buttery, fluffy bread.
Obviously, the snails are a bit too small to be eaten with regular cutlery, so how do you actually get the edible parts out of those small, brown, twisted shells? Simple really: it’s a custom to pry the periwinkles out of their shells with a regular headpin or sewing needle with which you first need to remove the little operculum at the opening of the shell as well before popping the soft meat into your mouth. The needles can be ‘presented’ by sticking them into a wine cork or something alike, which prevents people from losing their needles all around the table. If you want to be real fancy, you can also find beautifully-decorated special snail pins at specialty shops as well.
Periwinkles with Currant (Raisin) Bread / Alikruiken met Krentenbrood
- about 150 - 250g live periwinkles per person
- sea salt
- generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper
- slices of currant (raisin) bread
- salted butter, for the bread
- headpins or sewing needles, to pry out the snails when serving
MethodNote: preparation time indicates a minimum of time needed to scrub and purge the snails of sand and grit.
- Prep: Scrubs and rinse the periwinkles well. Place in a bowl with well-salted water for a few hours or overnight until the snails have spat out grit and other dirt. Afterwards, rinse them well with cold running water.
- In a large enough stockpot, add cleaned periwinkles and enough water to cover the snails. Add a generous amount of salt and black pepper*.
- Bring to a simmer and once the water is boiling turn heat to low and cover. Simmer on very low heat for about 5 to 10 minutes until the snails are cooked. Try not to overcook the snails as it can make the texture a bit unpleasant.
- Remove snails from the pot and allow to cool. Discard the liquid.
- Serve cooked periwinkles cold with raisin bread and salted butter, or as they are with some lemon juice or dipping sauce. To consume, remove the little operculum (a thin flap) at the entrance of the shell and pry out the snails with a pin.