Most people don't realize that the common garden snail is more than a pest, it's a gourmet food item. Helix aspersa, the common western garden snail, is a close cousin of the commercially raised French snail, Helix pomatia. In France the two are referred to as "petit gris" or "little gray" and "gros blanc" or "large white."Legend says that a Frenchman imported them into California in an effort to raise them as a gourmet crop. They may also have hitched a ride in with the wine grape vines that were imported from Europe. It doesn't matter, they are west and south in huge numbers. The eastern U.S. and Canada are home to Cepaea, another tasty variety.All should be harvested at the adult stage, when they are bigger than an inch long and have a lip at the front end of the shell, where it curves over the neck.Two weeks of cleaning and feeding results in clean flavored, fat snails, much tastier than the canned varieties available.
Things You'll Need
- 2 shallow saucers (about one half inch deep)
- Wheat bran
- Shredded lettuce
- Chopped fresh herbs (optional)
- Red wine (optional)
- Small fish tank, about 5 gallons (or equivalent container)
- Screened lid
- 3 bricks
- 1 board that will fit into cage
How to Prepare Garden Snails for Eating
Start by placing two of your bricks in a sheltered area of your garden where snails hang out. Place the board across them. Check in the early morning and you should have snails clinging to the underside of your board. Decide how many snails you will need, generally about a dozen per person. Gather them carefully to avoid damaging them or their shells. Keep gathering until you have enough.
Place your two bricks in the tank, then put the board on top of the bricks. Place the saucers on top of the board. Fill one saucer with clean water, the other with a mixture of your grains. Place shredded lettuce in the bottom of the cage. Supplement the lettuce with fresh herbs to add additional flavor. You can also use wine for part of the water. Mist all very lightly with water, then place your snails inside. Place the cover on top and weight it down with the third brick.
Change the water, grains and lettuce daily. Mist the inside of the cage lightly every day. The snails will "excrete" a lot every day, and you want them living in a clean cage. Continue this process for two weeks. Remove any dead snails as soon as you find them.
Remove the lettuce and grain, but keep the water clean. CAREFULLY remove the snails and wash them gently in clean water. Replace in the cleaned cage. Leave the snails with water only for two days.
Bring two gallons of water to a boil. Put your snails into the boiling water and stir them very gently for five minutes. Drain them, then remove the snails from their shells. Wash the snail meats several times in vinegar and water (one cup of vinegar to two gallons of water) to eliminate remaining mucus. Drain, then cook for a half hour in water with garlic and your choice of herbs, salt and pepper.
If saving the shells, cook them for an hour in one gallon of water and a cup of baking soda. Allow to drain and dry overnight.
Proceed with any recipe, either chopping the meats or leaving them whole. The French usually retain the shells for presentation, but other cultures serve them sauced in small baking dishes. They are a popular Spanish tapas dish.Make sure you serve with plenty of good bread for sopping up the butter and juices.
Tips & Warnings
- American snails typically have delicate shells. Sprinkle a bit of crushed oyster shell calcium over the bottom of their cage. You can find it at feed stores where it's sold to strengthen chicken egg shells.
- You can purchase empty shells to use if you don't want to bother. The purchased shells are generally much stronger.
- If using larger purchased shells, put two snails in each shell.
- Preparation is fairly simple. Face it, anything with garlic, butter and herbs is bound to be good!
- Don't use any cardboard or paper. Snails will chew right through it.
- Make sure your cage is well aerated at all times. Keep in a cool, shady location.
- Keep the cage clean daily.
- Don't salt the snails before killing and cooking, it's cruel.
- Photo Credit Courtesy forums.egullet.org
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