On my morning runs I often find Welk. These are the sea snails that we have here in the East Coast. Most people call them Conch, but that is incorrect. Conch live in much warmer waters, and are much much larger. For simple reasons there are two types here, Knobbed Welk, and Smooth Welk. They live in those shells that you find on the beach and put up to your ears to “hear” the ocean. When you find one that is occupied, however it is a great meal with a little effort. The biggest problem is sand. These creatures live in it, and it can ruin the meal if it is not dealt with. I usually find these in the morning before I go to work. I will put them in a pot with wet newspaper and top with ice and put them in the refrigerator while I am at work. When I come home they have spit out a fair amount or sand. Do not submerge them in tap water, you will suffocate them.
Now comes the gruesome part. Get a good sized pot of salted water boiling. In the meantime wash off the welk as best you can to get more of the sand and to bring it up a little in temperature so the boiling isn’t such a shock. These are tough enough. Now there is a way to puncture their shells with a nail, and then get a pairing knife in there to cut them out of the shells, that way they are raw and not as tough, but I never mastered this, and I made such a shreadded mess out of the snail that to me it was a waste of it’s life. They are tough animals to begin with, I don’t feel that the raw method helps that much. You will be cooking it anyway.
Now there are a few things that you can make with your welk, fritters are great, but here we will be doing Scungilli Salad. This is the Italian version of Ceviche. While you are waiting for the water to boil chop into small dice one half an onion, half a green pepper, half a red pepper, four stalks of celery, and a handful of banana peppers. If you like it hotter, then by all means go for it. This amount will change if you have more then one.
After the boil you will pull the snail out with tongs and place into a pot of salted ice water. This will cool the snail down enough to handle it and draw out more sand. When the snail is cool enough to handle, place upside down and get a fork behind the hard plate that covers it’s foot. Pull that sucker out of the shell. the end of the animal is it’s organs and digestive system. Discard this, it is the body we want.
Once out, put back into the salted water and gently scrub the rest of the sand off with your fingers. Once you feel you have cleaned it enough, place on cutting board. There is a small tube on top that is the snails sand and waste filter, cut this off and discard. Chop the body into very small pieces. Put in a bowl with your veges. Now here is where you can get really creative. You are going to need a vinegar, a citric acid, and spices. I use 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup lime juice, one shot of Grappa (vermouth, pisco, brennivin all work too) a healthy amount of salt, garlic, oregano, basil, and a few dashes of hot sauce. I make my own, use what you like, in the amount you like. Mix this well. the liquid must cover the mix at least 3/4. You are marinating overnight. This will “cook” the mix, and soften the welk a bit.
The next day fill a bowl with greens and top with the Scungilli and eat with a beer or a good wine. Cheers.