Snails from Your Garden to Your Table
Quoting from Escargots From Your Garden to Your Table by Francois Picart (F. Picart Snails, 1978), pages 53 to 57:
"Once collected, the snails must be sorted by size. You are looking for adults since they are the valuable food items. Leave the juveniles to fatten and grow. In this chapter you will learn how to spot a mature snail and what to do with it."
"A grown-up snail develops a lip at the front end of its shell, just where it curves over the snail's 'neck'. When this lip hardens, the snail has reached full growth. It will be at least 1 1/4 inch in size and ready to join others of similar rank in a specially designed, well-ventilated cage. Juveniles are always kept in a separate house."
"To furnish the adult cage you will need:
Two bricks or coffee cans
A piece of board
Two shallow pans -- for food and water
* After constructing a simple rectangular cage (See chapter on cages), place the bricks or coffee cans inside, standing on end about 1 foot apart. * Set the board across the brick/cans. (Test to be certain the board rests securely.)
* Place the two shallow pans on the board; fill one pan with water; in the second pan place a thin layer of cornmeal, wheat bran, or a mixture of the grains. This is a delicacy to the delicacy you are cultivating."
"Change the snail water every two or three days. Check the food supply daily. Care for the snails in this manner for two weeks. To avoid contamination of the harvest, IMMEDIATELY remove any snails that should die. They appreciate good housekeeping and will respond to your loving care. You want them fat and happy."
"Simply put, a fat snail is more appetizing and delicious than a scrawny one. To encourage their appetites and ensure their plumpness, sprinkle the snails' cages with water every evening. A gentle sprinkle will not disturb them more than is necessary to keep them active and hungry. But do not over water. Standing water on the cage bottom is dangerous to a snail's health. The holes in the base allow adequate drainage."
"At the end of two weeks your snails will need a bath. Remove them from their cages and place them in a bucket or tub. Treat them as though they were crystal; their shells can be easily broken if you are not gentle. Rinse the snails under running water and return them to CLEAN cages from which all food and water has been removed. They must now fast for at least 24 hours. If possible, keep them dieting for two full days."
"After the fast, your snails are ready for their transformation: to be glorified into the gastronomic wonder you have worked and waited for ... escargots. Before the DO's, a few important DON'TS:"
"DO NOT sprinkle the snails with salt prior to cooking. This obsolete French custom was originally thought to help rid the snail of its slime. The practice is both cruel and quite ineffective; since a snail uses its mucus as a defence, the more salt you shower upon it, the more mucus the creature will produce. Commercial outfits have abandoned the procedure. We suggest you trust their wisdom."
"Do not remove the tortillon, or gall. This protrusion spirals into the inner shell and contains the snail's liver. Cooks formerly removed it due to ignorance of snail physiology. Save yourself the time and extra work. Removing the tortillon eliminates the most nutritious and good-tasting portion of the snail. More about this in the next chapter."
"DO NOT cook a dead snail. And never give a snail the benefit of the doubt. If you think a snail might be dead, poke it with a sharp object and if it does not react, do not cook it."
"You will need:
4 dozen snails, fully retracted into their shells
2 gallons water"
"Boil the water. When it maintains a rolling boil, add the snails. They will be very uncooperative unless they have withdrawn. A shake of the container in which they await cooking should force them back into their shells."
"Boil for three minutes, then drain and rinse the snails in cold water for several minutes more. Following this rinse, remove the snails from their shells. (While some gourmets continue cooking them inside their shells, we do not recommend trying this with the California escargot. The shell is too delicate and fragile and could chip into the meat during the final cooking process.) Although a two-pronged fork is ideal for the task, any sharp object such as a small knife or a knitting needle may be used for removing the snails."
"Extracting the snail is not a difficult procedure, but it does require a little practice. Hold the shell in one hand and poke the meaty part of the foot with your fork. Gently and firmly twist the hand holding the snail as you counter twist and pull up with the hand holding the fork. If this does not loosen the snail, it may be that you overcooked it. One of the secrets to success with snails is patience. As with any other new challenge, practice will make you an expert."
"Wash the unshelled snails at least 3 times in vinegar and water (one cup of vinegar to two gallons of water) to eliminate remaining mucus. Drain well and cook for 30 minutes in water with bay leaves (laurel), thyme, and salt and pepper."
"In the meantime, if you plan to serve your snails in their shells, examine the shells for cracks or holes. Wash sound shells thoroughly and cook one hour in a solution of baking soda and water (1/2 cup baking soda to a gallon of water). Dry in an oven preheated to 300 F."
"When the escargots are done, drain and cool. You may now freeze them for later use or serve them for more immediate enjoyment. There is a variety of delicious recipes in this book. Or let your imagination run away with you. There is more to escargot than butter and garlic."
collected by Bert Christensen
PS I would add more flavourings during cooking and the current advice from the Food Stanards Agency is that the liver should be removed 'where necessary' (whatever that means!)