The Art of the Good Cigar

A Matter of Taste

Wildcrafting: A gathering of snails

Posted by herfergrrl on July 6, 2009

I ordered a dish of snails in garlic butter recently at a nice French restaurant, which reminded me of how very delicious these slimy little mollusks can be.  So I went on a quest for Helix aspersa, otherwise known as the common garden snail, otherwise known as escargot.  Yep, this is the secret that fancy French restaurants do not want you to learn so they can keep charging you $8.95 for half a dozen of them.  There are a few Helix species that are considered primo eating, and one of them is indeed the one which you see all over your garden in much of North America.

Heliculture isn’t all that hard; basically you pick up as many snails as you have room for, put them in a well ventilated container with some tasty herbs for a few days (I recommend rosemary, garlic greens and fennel) then take away all plant material, wash the snails and put them in an empty container for a week or so to allow gastric emptying.  Spray them daily with water.  Wash the snails again when they’re done processing the nice herbs, then let them dry (no water) for another few days.  In a pinch you can skip feeding them anything and simply purge them with a few days of water spraying and a few more days of drying out, but I like putting them on fresh rosemary for awhile and gloating over the plump little beauties in anticipation of a snail feast. 

When the snails are purged, scrub them again and drop them into boiling water with a bit of salt and vinegar (it cuts the mucous).   When you can pull them out of their shells, trim the dark bit at the end (it’s actually the liver and whatever’s left of the stomach contents, which would be nothing at all if you’ve purged them properly).  Scrub scrub scrub the slimy little things vigorously in salt and a well flavored vinegar, then return to a fresh batch of boiling water (or wine) to simmer until tender.

I don’t bother messing about with the shells, but if you want to do the classic garlic-parsley-butter presentation in the shell, feel free.  With the quantity of snails I can procure through this method, I’m usually doing a literal casserole of them.  Leftovers freeze well, but I can eat a whole lot of snails so there generally aren’t any.

My most recent snail quest was a failure.  The trek did however net me a pound or so of wild onion greens, which I sniffed out and homed in on, salivating.  Me likey, since I’m allegic to all the commercially grown onion varieties.  I will make a return visit to the wild onion patch after I locate a good snail spot, as this strikes me as a really delectable combination.  For now I think I’ll be chopping them into creamed cauliflower, wilting some with butter and maybe doing a fry-up with mushrooms.  Yum.

Aquatic snails on the other hand seemed to be much easier to gather, at least in Lake Greenwood.  A few hours of “snailing” last week netted us a good many pounds of the delicacy, which we cleaned out for a few days in changes of fresh water before boiling.  The thick, muscular “foot” is the only non-gritty edible portion, but a very edible portion it is, especially when soaked in butter, white wine and fresh crushed garlic.  Bon appetit!

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