Thursday, December 9, 2010

Savory Snails: Delicious and Home-cooked Escargot

Is your garden plagued by pesky garden snails? Instead of poisoning them, do like the French and gather them up for a delicious snack. It might sound strange, but those slithering creatures are the very same sold in fancy French restaurants. So if you need a creative appetizer for a holiday party that will have all your friends talking, look no further than your own backyard. Make sure you introduce your backyard snails as escargot, and you’ve got one classy party.

But wait: before you gather up all your garden snails, pop them in the microwave and stick colored toothpicks in them, Carla Emery has some tips on how to prepare these slippery yet succulent creatures.

First, purge. Snails collected for eating must be purged of any off-flavor or toxic materials from previously eaten food. Put about 1⁄2 inch of damp cornmeal in the bottom of a container such as a plastic wastebasket, metal pan, or crock. Put snails in the container and cover with a ventilated top; a wire refrigerator shelf, hardware cloth, cheesecloth, or nylon netting provides plenty of air and lets you observe the activity of the snails. The cover should be weighted with bricks or tied securely so the snails do not escape. Place the container in a cool, shady area and let snails purge themselves (by eating the cornmeal) for at least 72 hours. Snails can be kept in containers for a long time if the cornmeal is replaced every other day to prevent it from molding and souring.
The snails will feed and then crawl up the side of the container to rest; use only active snails. Throw away without eating those that remain inactive on the bottom. After 72 hours the snails can be removed from the container and washed thoroughly with cold running water to remove the cornmeal from their shells. They are now ready for blanching, another essential procedure.

Plunge the live snails into boiling water and simmer about 15 minutes, as is done in preparing live shrimp, lobster, crab, or crawfish. (A bay leaf in the cooking water will give this operation a pleasant aroma.) The water will foam as the snails cook, so heat should be controlled to prevent the kettle from boiling over. After blanching, turn snails into a colander to drain. Then, with a toothpick, nut pick, or pointed knife, pull the snail meat from the shell. Save some shells for later use.

Remove Gall:
Remove and discard the dark-colored gall, about 1⁄4 inch long, which is found on the tail end, where the snail is attached to the shell. Wash snail meat several times under cold running water.

Prepare the Shells:
Boil the empty shells for 30 minutes in water to which about 1⁄4 t. baking soda per pint of water has been added. Drain the shells, wash them thoroughly in cold running water, and then dry them. Use them to serve snails in recipes calling for cleaned shells.


Stuffed Snail Shells
Simmer cleaned, blanched snail meat in salted water until tender. Chop snail meat, mix with minced garlic, and saute in olive oil or margarine about 5 minutes. Stuff cleaned shells with the chopped, seasoned meat. Seal shell opening with garlic butter. Place under broiler for a few minutes until butter bubbles. Serve immediately.

Fried Snails
Simmer cleaned, blanched snail meat for 10 minutes in water seasoned as desired with salt, bay leaf, parsley, thyme, allspice, etc. Roll cooked snail meat in fine cracker or bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Fry in oil until browned, as you would fried oysters. Sprinkle with lemon juice to serve. These may be served as an entree or, pierced with toothpicks, as hors d’oeuvres.

Curious to learn more about these versatile garden animals? Check out Sasquatch’s new book, The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane available now!

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