Baked whelks

Serves 4
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I made something very similar to this in my British Regional Food cookbook and hey presto! – it turns up in New Orleans in a local version using the "mash" from the Tabasco process in a garlic butter. This by-product is made from the mashed-up peppers that are left when the Tabasco is strained off and it is then sold locally in packets. Tom Parker Bowles did buy a couple of kilos, but on the way to the airport he realised he had left it in the fridge in the Windsor Court Hotel – he'll just have to go back next year. For a similar "mash", chop red chillies into butter.



2kg small- to medium-sized live whelks
300g sea salt (Sel de Guérande or Maldon)
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
12 white peppercorns
1tsp fennel seeds
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
Half a lemon
1 glass of white wine

To serve

200g sea salt
6-8 pieces of garlic shoots or chopped wild garlic leaves or garlic chives trimmed and finely chopped
2 chillies finely chopped
150g butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of half a lemon

Wash the whelks in water, then drain them and put them into a bowl with 300g of the sea salt. Leave for 2 hours, then wash them under a steady trickle of running water for 1 hour, giving them a good stir every so often.

Put them into a pan with the rest of the cooking ingredients, cover them with water and add a tablespoon of salt, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the liquid for about an hour or so. When the whelks are cool enough to handle, remove them from the shell with a small skewer or lobster pick, and remove and discard the small, disc-like piece of shell attached to the body, and the dark grey sac. Rinse and dry the shells on some kitchen paper. Chop each piece of meat into four pieces and put them into a bowl with the garlic shoots, butter and lemon juice and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well and push the mixture back into the shells.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Scatter the salt about 1cm deep, on to one large or individual ovenproof serving dishes – Le Creuset work well – and embed the shells into the salt (you may need more salt, depending on the size of your dishes) so that they don't fall over during cooking and most of the butter stays in the shells. Bake for 20 minutes and serve immediately with crusty bread.

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