Kellet’s Whelk / Sea Snails

Available from:

‘Crabby’ Steve Escobar

Seasonal: July 1 – March 22.

About Whelks

Whelks are known among California fishermen as “the poor man’s abalone.” That may sound like an insult, but anyone who has had the good fortune to feast on abalone—whether pounded tender and quickly pan-fried or tenderized with a long slow cook into a stew or chowder—knows that any such comparison can only be seen as the highest of compliments.


Under cold running water use a stiff brush to remove any excess off of the shell.

Boil a pot of salted water, toss in the snails and bring the water back up to a boil as quickly as possible. Once it’s back to a boil let the snails cook for about 15 minutes.

Cool the whelks in cold water until you can handle them easily. Use any appropriate tool to get under the operculum (the hard door that closes after the snail) and pull the snail out of the shell. The whole snail may come out intact, or the edible part may break off leaving the rest in the shell.

Under cold running water wash out away any excess off the meat. All else is edible including siphons.

Find the whelk’s mouth. It’s right between two short tentacles. Insert your filleting knife into the mouth sharp side up and split the gut open in order to wash out the last of any unwanted excess.

Pull off the operculum and what you have is a nice clean and edible piece of whelk. In general it’s not so tough as to need pounding unless you want it extra tender. You can eat it immediately or freeze for later.

Note: if everything didn’t pull out of the shell but you want to keep the shell, fill it with water a couple of times and shake it vigorously mouth end down.

Sautéed Whelks with Aioli

6 medium to large fresh whelks
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of minced shallots

Leave the whelks under cold running water for about an hour or so. Place in a large pot and cover with salted water. Boil for 45 minutes. With a small fork, remove the whelk from the shell. Clean under running water, removing all the guts and leaving just the muscle. Cut each muscle in half and continue to rinse thoroughly. Drain well on a towel.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large pan. Add the whelks and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until heated through, 30-45 seconds. Just before removing from pan, add the shallots and toss.


2 egg yolks
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ tablespoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoons water
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

With a whisk, combine all ingredients except olive oil. Once blended, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Divide the whelks among four plates and arrange with chopped ripe tomatoes, lettuce, microgreens and any other fresh herbs that can be found in your local market or garden. Drizzle with aioli. Serves 4.

Parsley and Butter recipe

1 ounce garlic (about 7 cloves), germ (the green sprout) removed
1 ½ ounces flat-leaf parsley (about 1/2 bunch), heavy stems removed
8 ounces (2 sticks) soft unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
1 pound whelks (about 12), the smaller the better, scrubbed


In a running food processor, drop garlic through feed tube to mince. Place parsley in container of machine and pulse to mince. Add butter and seasonings, and process until well blended. No bits of butter should show. Set aside.
Bring several quarts of water, heavily salted (like seawater), to a boil. Add whelks and boil 4 minutes. Drain.
Place butter mixture in a metal bowl fitted into a small saucepan of simmering water, or in a double boiler. Whisk until mixture melts, then transfer to a serving dish or small individual bowls. Serve 2 to 3 whelks a person, with melted-butter mixture for dipping.