Would you buy prepared snails from a deli and cook them at home?
What about eating snails from your garden?
I was doing some research, trying to figure out how to get rid of snails in gardens, and discovered that the garden snails we get around here are the helix aspersa variety. These are known as petit gris (“little grey”) to the French, and prized as one of the two main escargot varieties.
I’ve eaten snails before in a fancy French restaurant. They were OK, although truth be told the dish was more about the garlic butter than the actual snails.
We have lots of snails around here. I don’t particularly want them in my garden, and they’re there simply for the picking up. The food miles are zero. It all seems to add up. What if they’re delicious and I’ve been ignoring them all these years?
Some more research turned up a lot of different methods for preparing garden snails for the kitchen. I decided to follow the most-recommended procedures.
I kept about a dozen snails in a bucket with just lettuce to eat for about 10 days. This has two purposes: one is to purge the dirt and grit from their systems, and the other is to make sure they haven’t been recently poisoned. I rinsed the bucket out daily, and gave them fresh lettuce. They ate the lettuce and none died, so they were clear of poisons and were healthy.
The next step is to boil the snails in their shells. Depending which book or web site you read, you can boil them for anything from 8 to 30 minutes. I did it for 15. About half way through I replaced the water with boiling water from the kettle – it had gotten a bit gunky and was slightly off-colour. The replacement water didn’t discolour.
After boiling, you use a toothpick or prawn fork to pull the snails from the shells. I rinsed them, as they were a little slimy. If you were being fancy, you’d keep the shells for presentation, but I couldn’t be bothered – I just wanted to know what they’d taste like.
The proper way to cook the snails is to return them to their shells with butter and garlic, put them on a tray in the oven until the butter starts to bubble, and then remove them and serve.
Instead, I drizzled olive oil into a frying pan and added a knob of butter and some chopped garlic. I threw the snails in and fried them for a short time, then served them onto a plate. I figure that’s similar enough to the ‘official’ oven method.
So how did they taste?
Better than you’d expect, but to me not really worth the effort. They were slightly rubbery, a bit like calamari, and didn’t have any kind of distinct flavour. It was basically just meat with garlic butter. Personally, I’d rather feed the snails to the chooks and turn them into eggs!
I was later telling a friend about cooking escargot, and she was really interested. She’s had them before in restaurants, and is an adventurous gourmand. She asked where I got them (thinking I’d discovered a cool new deli or something), and as soon as I said “the garden” she thought the whole thing was disgusting.
Why is buying an unusual delicacy OK, but growing it yourself disgusting? What’s the difference?