Thursday, May 19, 2011

Snails: How and Why You Should Try Eating These Garden Pests

Snails: Small, slimy, and a common pest in your garden. You might not know that these small brown creatures are identical to the "escargot" variety in France and are often quite edible. Why not avoid pesticides and eat the snails instead? They are high in protein and minerals. However, use caution. Carla Emery notes:

"There's a lot to know about collecting and eating snails. Some are not good to eat. Some need special treatment."

Research your snail varieties to learn which snails are safe to eat, and cook them properly before you decide to eat them. These directions are crucial to follow when eating snails:

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 let 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.

Blanch. 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.

Snails can be cooked in a variety of ways and have a tendency to take on the flavor of other ingredients while adding a subtle, earthy flavor of their own.

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