Steamed Periwinkles with Garlic Stems & White Wine

When we first saw these green garlic stems in the Korean groceries, my first thought was to pickle them but actually I’ve done everything BUT pickle them so far! Once the stems are trimmed and cut to the desired length, they are sauteed in olive oil creating both a fragrant oil and a pre-cooked aromatic that you can quickly add to anything for a flavor boost — eggs and cheese for a hearty morning scramble or omelet; and pasta sauces, stews and soups to replace or supplement other aromatics such as onions and garlic. Garlic stems have a milder but distinctly garlic flavor, and soften to a pleasant bite once cooked.

One end of the stems has a bud which will eventually “blossom” with miniature cloves that make an interesting garnish, and which will be delicious once pickled. (I *will* pickle these soon.)

In this quick recipe for steamed periwinkles in white wine sauce, we used the same broth we would use for steamed clams and simply replaced regular minced garlic cloves with a half bunch of chopped garlic stems The stems are milder than garlic cloves so the copious amount was necessary to bring out the same garlic pungency.

We first tried periwinkles last year, and the ones we got in Hawaii came from Canada. These were more local, but at H-Mart were labelled as “Bai Top Shells.” They require considerably more cleaning than the ones we got in Hawaii if you plan to use them in this dish where the shells are added directly to the cooking broth, and the broth is consumed as part of the meal. It seems from a scan of recipes for bai top on the web, that in Korean dishes, the meat is extracted from the shell and the shells are discarded so they are sold more naturel, as it were.

The one thing I can say about the periwinkles we got this time is that they were VERY fresh. So fresh that after scrubbing them and draining them, I put the shells in the fridge to keep cool while I prepped the broth, and when I went to take them out, I was greeted with this:

I thought to myself: I can freak out, or I can grab my camera… As you can see, I went for the photo-op. (This photo is going out to Rowena, who first mentioned the possibility of snails in the fridge on her blog last month!)

For 4-5 persons

2 lbs. periwinkles (aka bai top)
2 TBL olive oil
Half bunch of garlic stems, washed, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces
4 TBL unsalted butter
1/2 tsp sea salt (not necessary if using regular butter)
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 bottle dry white wine (we used a Vinho Verde)
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Make a saline soaking liquid by mixing 1/4 cup sea salt with 2 quarts/liters cold water, and stir to dissolve salt. Clean the shells by first soaking in this saline solution for 30 minutes to loosen dirt on the shells. Using a hard bristled brush, such as a nail brush or firm toothbrush, scrub shells free of dirt and place in colander. Rinse all shells under running water. Keep in fridge until needed. (Note: If you don’t plan to cook the shells the same day you buy them, don’t clean them until just before you plan to cook.)

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and garlic stems over medium high heat until garlic aroma fills the kitchen. Add butter, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes if using, and heat until butter is melted through and bubbling. Add white wine, and bring to boil. Add periwinkles, stir through, and add enough water so that broth comes 3/4 of the way around shells, and cover. Return to boil, stirring occasionally. Cook for 10 minutes.

Serve with a toothpick to extract meat from shell, and lots of fresh bread to sop up the buttery, garlicky broth!

Like periwinkles? Also try Portuguese-style Pork, Clams & Periwinkles. And for another take on periwinkles — adding chorizo and mussels instead, visit Meagan Down Under on her site, Megalomaniac.