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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bigorneaux - Perwinkles (Winkles). Periwinkles are a Treasured Part of a French Seafood Platter. Winkles in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Bigorneaux - Winkle (periwinkles).

The French love seafood and eat more oysters than any other nation in the world; however, a large seafood assortment at home involves an enormous amount of work. That makes seafood platters a popular choice in fish and seafood restaurants.  Bulots, whelks, and bigorneaux, the periwinkle, France's ever-popular sea snails will be on all but the smallest renditions.
Periwinkles on France’s Atlantic coast.

Apart from the large restaurants along France’s Atlantic coast, there are hundreds of small seafood restaurants with seasonal menus made up of whatever came off the boat that morning. In these restaurants crabs, especially the crab tourteau, the edible brown crab is always the star, but whelks and winkles are just as popular.  All will be boiled in separate herb and wine flavored broths, allowed to cool and then served cold with all the requisite tools for removing their shells. Crab meat is firm and flavorsome and whelks and periwinkles are tasty and slightly chewy but not tough. Fresh mayonnaise and French fries, chips, will usually be the only accompaniments.  A bottle of white, rose, or red wine will round out a meal that with a coffee will cost less than 10 Euros.  Heaven by the sea. Explanations on removing the shells will be offered, with a smile, for first-time visitors. Caveat Emptor: In a seafood restaurant in town with well-dressed waiters expect to pay double.
Periwinkles, winkles, ready to dip in melted butter.

If you have been to the Caribbean and enjoyed conches and abalone then whelks and winkles should not be strange, they are close relatives as are escargot, France's ever popular edible land snails. The texture is similar, and 80% of their enjoyment is the texture.  By the way; the English expression “to winkle something out” is taken from the work required to remove the winkle from its shell; the only tool you need for a winkle is a toothpick.
Fried conch, the periwinkle’s cousin, with French fries.

Periwinkles are found in in the sand near the coast in France, Spain, and the UK and until the 1950’s periwinkles were a favorite UK seaside snack,  There they were offered, served cold, with vinegar, salt, pepper, or lemon juice.  Today, along England’s coastline in ports like Folkestone where ferries for France leave there are still stands and restaurants that serve periwinkles. N.B.: They will be on the menus as winkles.

Periwinkles, winkles, on French Menus:
Assiette de Fruits de Mer: 5 Crevettes Roses, 5 Huîtres, 3 Langoustines, Bulots (150g), Bigorneaux (40g), Crevettes Grises (40g) – A seafood platter of 5 pink shrimps, 5 oysters, 3 Dublin Bay prawns, 150 grams of unshelled whelks, 40 grams of  unshelled winkles and 40 grams of sand shrimps.   The fresh seafood on this menu will be very lightly cooked, only the oysters on the half-shell will be raw.  From the size and variety of offerings, this platter will be plenty for two or three.  Seafood platters are a great way for visitors to try seafood delicacies that are not on the menu at home.  They also provide an opportunity to taste seafood that may be on the menu at home but will always have had their real taste and texture hidden by a sauce.  The same menu that offers a platter like this will also list the individual items by the dozen or half dozen.  
A plateaux de fruits de mer

Bigorneaux au Vin Blanc Accompagnées de Pain et Beurre  – Winkles prepared in white wine and served with French bread and butter.
Periwinkles in a hard cider sauce with chives
Bigorneaux Poêlés à l'Ail Winkles lightly fried with garlic. This will be a French entrée, the first course.

Plateau de Fruits de Mer:  1 Crabe, 5 Langoustines, 6 Huîtres Creuses n°3,  6 Crevettes Roses, 6 à 8 bulots, une Poignée de Bigorneaux  –  A seafood platter including 1  brown crab (the crabe torteau), 5 Dublin Bay prawns, 6 Japanese (Pacific) oysters size 3, 6 pink shrimps, 6-8 whelks, and a handful of winkles.  This is a large platter and even a small crab will offer close to 200 grams of white meat without the shell.  The Japanese, Pacific, creuse oysters noted here by size (size 3), indicate an unshelled weight of 66 - 85 grams each. The offering on this menu listing is enough for four or five diners and it may be served on a three-tiered platter. The whelks and winkles on this listing are served in their shells. The visitor might not know for how many diners a listing like this is suitable. Ask.
Periwinkles with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves

Salade de Bigorneaux et Citron Confit -  A salad served with winkles and pickled lemons. As part of a salad, the winkles in this menu listing will not be in their shells. The word confit may confuse as it has many meaning on French menus, and how a fruit confit is prepared depends on the chef.  Fruit and vegetable confits may be slowly cooked with wine, wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar, sometimes added brown sugar and offered as a sweet jam, condiment or garnish. The taste of a fruit confit intentionally contrasts with the main dish. Other vegetable or fruit confits, when served like the one above will not be sweetened but lightly pickled in salt.  (Confit de Fruits are completely different, they are a candy, a sweet, where the water has been replaced by sugar, and they may be stored unrefrigerated for months).
Periwinkles with Vermouth and Shallots

Winkles are always cooked before being eaten, and they may be served hot or cold.  Only half the winkles on French menus are locally caught, none are farmed, and nearly half of France's needs are met by imports, mostly from the UK where they plentiful but not no longer in demand in local markets. The French are worried about their supplies when Britain leave the common market.  There are many other edible sea snails out there but winkles and whelks are still found in quantity, and not yet threatened by overfishing.

Pied a Peche – Fishing on foot

On France coasts “pied a peche” (fishing by feet) is popular with seaside visitors in sandy areas.  At low tide, the holidaymakers will learn how to spot the breathing holes of sea snails and clams in the sand; then,  as long as they are prepared to spend an hour or two they may collect winkles and clams (palourdes) on rocks and in the sand by the bucket full. They will take them back to the self-catering apartments beloved by French on their four to six-week annual vacation. With a bottle of wine, fresh bread and butter, they will be part of an inexpensive and tasty dinner.
Pêche à pied -  fishing on foot.
Bigorneaux in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(German - gemeine strandschnecke), (Italian-  lumaca di mare), (Spanish – bigaro),
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu.
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