Friday, November 2, 2012

Savour the Sea: Sautéed Whelks with Aioli

Whelks are small marine snails with a brownish grey spiral-shaped shell and edible interior with a delicate, slightly salty taste that makes them particularly delicious boiled, sautéed and served with aioli, as Bulots à l’aïoli. The first time I had 'Bulots', as they are commonly known in France, was when we visited Le Royal Moulleau, a small seaside restaurant in Arcachon, a longtime oyster harvesting area on the southern side of the tranquil Bassin d’Arcachon just outside Bordeaux. This pretty seaside town lured bourgeois Bordelaise at the end of the 19th century, who built sprawling summertime villas, frolicked in the waves and feasted on oysters, bulots and champagne.

Le Royal Moulleau Assiette de Bulots à l’aïoli (Bulots served with aioli)

The beaches of Arcachon outside Bordeaux

Arcachon oysters from Le Royal Moulleau

A chilled bottle of Muscadet, my preference with bulots and oysters

Often difficult to find in Toronto, whelks are at their best from September to February, and can be kept for up to two days in the fridge as long as they're covered with damp towels. When cooked from fresh, they must be washed thoroughly in several changes of water and then left to soak for a couple of hours. Normand Laprise from Toqué! in Montreal, prepares these little coquilles with a delicate aioli, reminiscent of the Bulots à l’aïoli and local oysters I enjoyed in Archachon. Magnifique!

Normand Laprise's bulots from Toqué photo: Robert J. Glabraith

Sautéed Whelks with Aioli
Serves 4

6 medium to large fresh whelks (I get mine from Diana's Seafood)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp minced shallots
Salt and pepper

2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp chopped garlic
3 tbsp water
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1 tomato, seeded and diced
4 cups micro greens & fresh herbs

With a whisk, combine all of the Aioli ingredients except olive oil. Once blended, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, then cover and chill until needed.

Leave the whelks under cold running water for about an hour or so. Place in a large pot and cover with salted water, and 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, about 30-45 seconds. Just before removing from pan, add the shallots and toss.

To serve, 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. 

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