The collecting and cooking and selling of periwinkles as street food, has been part of the heritage of Kilkee for generations. The periwinkle is a sea snail (Littorina littorea) which is very common on the rocky west Clare shore. A number of local families, going back generations, have collected, cooked and then sold this delicacy from stalls on the promenade in Kilkee.
Winkles, as they are known locally as, are collected in the intertidal zone on the rocks. The ‘pickers’ are usually members of the same extended family. They normally use a bucket and pick the winkles by hand one at a time which are then filled into sacks for transporting. It is back-breaking work. When the fresh harvest is brought home they are then cooked.
The BBC Food website recommends the following method of cooking fresh periwinkles:
Live winkles will need washing in lots of cold water then soaking in a little salted water for 30 minutes before boiling. Boiled in plenty of water, they take 3-4 minutes to cook. Once cooked, roll them in a little oil to make the shell glossy and serve with vinegar and salt (and a pin to extract the meat from the shell).
Locals boil the winkles in seawater with seaweed added. They claim that this gives more flavour. The winkle sellers then take the freshly cooked shell fish to their stalls on the Kilkee promenade.
Periwinkles are not as popular as they should be. It is unusual to see periwinkles on a seafood platter in a restaurant. The reason is, presumably, because while a prawn or mussel is a decent mouthful the winkle is so small and the time-consuming trouble of taking it out of it’s shell puts diners off. You need a straight pin to take the meat out of the shell. You first remove the tiny ‘cap’ or foot which protects the winkle from predators and the rest of the meat is edible. The nicest way to eat winkles is to buy a bag from one of the stalls and sit on the Kilkee seawall looking out at the activities in the bay.
The stall holders also sell dillisk, slack and carrageen which are very nutritious sea vegetables and can be eaten raw.