Common whelk are Carolina escargots

May 4, 2013 

Those quiet, moonless evenings with stars dancing on shivering waters are the hours that conceal the silent whelk stealthily plowing a furrow across shifting sands. Whelk, a cross between submarine and turtle, are snails, surviving amid the 80,000-plus species classed as mollusks. Fully armored, equipped with sensors, they are capable of sniffing out the slightest aroma of their next meal.

Our common whelk could be thought of as a saltwater version of European escargot, a gourmet class, fingernail sized, land snail, scarcely comparable to our massive boot-sized whelk prized by shell collectors.

To fishermen, whelk suggests profit, a tasty meal, perhaps a pair of fisherman’s mittens. Mittens require locating both a knobbed whelk and a busycon perversum or lightning whelk. Perverse, because they are unusual, possessing a lefthand spiral, thus ideal for fitting one’s left fist. The two produce a wicked weapon.

As carnivorous predators, whelks possess an acute scenting system for locating potential victims, primarily other shellfish, oyster, clam or scallop.

When served in many exclusive seafood restaurants, whelk rank as exotic delicacies.

Persuading these muscular and armored creatures to abandon their shells requires planning; “Promise Landers” of Carolina found freezing preserves the whelk’s freshness, while simplifying meat removal. A toothed wooden mallet tenderizes, resulting in a belly full of “Carolina escargots” plus handy boxing gloves. Who could hope for anything more?

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