What is Scungilli?

It’s slightly mysterious, but nothing to be afraid of

Scungilli isn't pretty, but it's a key component of Italian seafood salad.

Scungilli is one of those foods that most people have little to no idea what it really is. When there’s any description of it on a menu, it usually only says “sliced conch,” which indicates that it’s some type of snail, but even that isn’t very specific. In reality, scungilli can be any type of large sea snail, like whelks, that’s been cleaned and cut up into smallish pieces.

The scungilli you usually find in restaurants comes from a can, is typically served in antipasto salads or pasta dishes, and is associated with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. While the canned variety is perfectly acceptable and also quite expensive (if slightly bland), scungilli can also be made fresh, provided you can get your hands on some live snails. Whelks tend to be dense, chewy, and sweet, while canned “conch” (generally a handful of different varieties of snail) can be slightly less chewy.

Making scungilli from scratch can be very labor-intensive. First you need to steam the snails, then remove the whole critter by cracking open the shell. Then you need to cut off the coiled digestive tract, slice them lengthwise, rinse well, peel away the dark outer layer, slice thinly, freeze and defrost to tenderize, marinade them to further tenderize, then finally serve. We think we’ll be sticking with the canned variety.

The pale, white flesh has a texture similar to calamari, and can be served simply in a salad with some garlic, sliced onion, red pepper flakes, lemon, oil , and vinegar. The dark outer layer, removed mostly for aesthetic purposes, is a great addition to a simple pasta with marinara sauce.

Hopefully this helps to demystify scungilli. Give it a shot the next time you see it on a menu; you might just be pleasantly surprised. And if you're looking to cook with scungilli at home, here are some recipes

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