Is your knowledge of shellfish limited to clams, oysters, and mussels? Do you pass on exotic-looking shellfish on ice at the Asian market and wish you knew how to cook them—or even what they are? A recent Chowhound discussion on common Chinese shellfish turned into a sort of minitutorial on what to expect in the market and what to do when you get home.
Whelks (pictured) have conical, spiral shells that look like small conchs—in fact, even though the difference in size is huge, whelks are sometimes mislabeled as conchs, Bkeats says. Periwinkles and other types of sea snails could also be on offer, along with short-neck clams, a small type of hard-shell clam.
Short-neck clams can be cooked like any other kind of clam, JungMann says. They're great with noodles or in rice dishes like paella. It's traditional to stir-fry short-necks with black bean sauce, chiles, and herbs. Both whelks and snails need to be scalded in hot water to detach meat from shell before preparing, ipsedixit says.
Boiling can also tenderize the meat, JungMann says. Whelks should cook a few minutes in salted water before being drained, cooled, and pulled out of their shells, Bkeats says. You'll need to trim away the intestinal tract (the dark, innermost end of the whelk) and remove the hard part covering the shell. Then stir-fry with vegetables, add to a salad, or even eat like sashimi. You could even bake them, same as you would escargots.
Periwinkles and other snails require minimal cooking, just five to ten minutes of boiling or stir-frying. "My mother would cook them in coconut cream with ginger and lemongrass," JungMann recalls. You could also steam with wine and herbs, or stir-fry with black beans. Bkeats boils them quickly in salt water, then serves them in the shell with melted herb-garlic butter. You could go after them with a fork, but fourunder recommends "kissing" them out: that is, plugging the pneumostome (air hole) and sucking out the meat.