For the past few months we have been serving fresh whelks at Toqué! - when we can get them - as part of our tasting menu. Whelk ( bourgot in French) is a marine snail with a whitish spiral-shaped shell. The edible part has a delicate, slightly salty taste that makes them particularly delicious in salads.
I have been asked many times by customers where whelks can be purchased. Finding them is definitely a challenge because the vast majority of the whelks fished locally are shipped to buyers in Asia, leaving us with too few to satisfy our demand. I find this situation quite frustrating as I worry that if we continue to export so extensively, we will endanger the species.
This raises the inevitable question of the pros and cons of eating fish and shellfish. On one hand, it is a fact that many fish are a nutritious choice as they are low in fat and high in protein and vitamins.
On the other hand, we cannot disregard the negative impacts of industrial fishing on marine wildlife and habitats. Overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors reduce the population of fisheries and at the same time degrade their ecosystems, leading to many fish being now critically endangered.
I enjoy cooking and serving fresh fish in my restaurant. However, I am committed to doing it in a responsible and sustainable way. It is possible to eat fish and preserve the life in our oceans.
For example, I never buy from industrial fishermen and only work directly with local artisanal fishermen who use responsible and sustainable fishing practices. I am convinced that consumers can play their part by making informed choices about the fish they eat.
So, if you are lucky enough to find fresh (live) whelks fished the artisanal way - mine come from the Gaspésie - remember that you can keep them for up to two days in the fridge, as long as they are covered with damp towels. You can prepare them according to the recipe below or any other snail recipe you like.
Sautéed Whelks with Aioli
6 medium to large fresh whelks
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of minced shallots
Leave the whelks under cold running water for about an hour or so. Place in a large pot and cover with salted water. Boil for 45 minutes. With a small fork, remove the whelk from the shell. Clean under running water, removing all the guts and leaving just the muscle. Cut each muscle in half and continue to rinse thoroughly. Drain well on a towel.
Heat olive oil and butter in a large pan. Add the whelks and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until heated through, 30-45 seconds. Just before removing from pan, add the shallots and toss.
2 egg yolks
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ tablespoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoons water
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
With a whisk, combine all ingredients except olive oil. Once blended, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Divide the whelks among four plates and arrange with chopped ripe tomatoes, lettuce, microgreens and any other fresh herbs that can be found in your local market or garden. Drizzle with aioli. Serves 4.
Beppi's wine matches
Keep things fresh and crisp here, wine-wise. French whites such as muscadet, sauvignon blanc from Touraine or, if you can afford it, Sancerre would work well, as would a dry French rosé from Provence. Pinot grigio from Italy, sauvignon blanc from New Zealand or albarino from Spain would be good choices, too, as would dry riesling from Canada or Australia. If you prefer ice-cold beer, lager or pilsner would do the dish proud.