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Homepsun advice on collecting #snails from the wild and cooking them

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."

"PREPARATION"

"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
Toronto, Ontario

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!)

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Baby snails venturing outdoors #nationalescargotday

Sunday 24th May is National Escargot Day and the weather is good enough for the babies to go outside at last. Just keep your fingers crossed we don't get a late frost. The plants in the pens have grown really well just in the last week or two. I've got a mix of self-seeded perpetual spinach like last year but also broccoli and oil seed rape. I tried planting the rape last year so I would have good sized vegetation earlier but it didn't germinate. #Note to self: plant oil seed rape earlier this year!

venturing out May 2015 If you've never tried eating snails then Cafe Rouge have a special offer on Sunday. Just go in and ask and they'll give you a sample pot of their delicious escargots to taste #rougesnails. Now there's an opportunity you can't refuse!

But there's a lot more to snails than garlic butter. I'm sure I've already given you my recipe for snail pizza in Molluscs and Me but if you haven't seen it just improvise. We matched the soft cooked snails with purple sprouting broccoli. But it could be asparagus as that's in season now and then we added blue cheese. I'm a goat's cheese fan and I really like to support UK food producers so instead of gorgonzola, I've got some Ribblesdale blue in my fridge which is just as creamy smooth and delicious. It's a wonderful combination.

Happy National Escargot Day to you all!

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Colombian Rondon with snails!

I couldn't pass the opportunity to look up an entirely new recipe for serving snails - well new to me, though I think this recipe has been around a long time. It all started when I got tweeting with @sofiabaguley. Sofia is Colombian and is giving the lucky people of Kent the chance to try Colombian food. She's offering a takeway service from her home on a Friday night in Tunbridge Wells. For the whole Colombian experience you can join her on a Saturday night once a month at one of her dinner parties: (http://www.sofiascolombiankitchen.co.uk/).

So let's get down to the details. Rondon seems to be one of those dishes like minestrone soup or a balti which you can throw anything into a basic mix that gives it that special flavour. Like a lot of Colombian food it shows strong Caribbean and European influences. Rondon is a thick  soup and on the island of San Andres it is made with with peppery coconut milk, and lots of fish with snails, yucca, plantain, and "domplines", a type of flour tortilla. It all looks very exciting.

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Snails - the ultimate slow food

Have you got your slow cooker on the go today? I have! I think there’s nothing better than the flavours you get from slow cooked food. Slow Food Week (1 – 9 June http://www.slowfood.org.uk/all-events/slow-food-week-13-2/) has a snail as its symbol - which is very appropriate. If you cook snails slowly you get a lovely soft texture like mushrooms. Quick cooking produces that horrible lump of gristle that so may people complain about. The pleasure you get from eating snails, or anything else is all in the cooking. This is my cider recipe for cooking snails using locally sourced Kentish cider.

Cooking Kentish snails with Kentish cider

 Kentish Cider is an essential ingredient in cooking locally grown edible snails and here is how to use it. In true Mrs Beaton style: first catch your snails, clean them and let them dry off so that they go into temporary aestivation.

Make your cooking stock with the following ingredients:

1 measure cider

10 measures water              

1 crushed clove garlic, chopped shallot, chopped carrot,

sea salt and black pepper

1 clove, 1 bay leaf, small sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg,

chopped parsley and thyme (could be dried)

1 whole bird’s eye chilli (don’t break it up or the stock could be too hot)

(One litre of stock would cook a kilo of snails.)

Make a 10% brine preferably with sea salt

Bring a large pan of water to rapid boil and add salt. Drop the sleeping snails into the boiling water and bring back to the boil for five minutes. Plunge them into cold water after blanching so that you can handle the shells to remove the snail using a small fork. Twist the snail with the shape of the shell to remove it.

Drop the de-shelled snails into hot brine and boil for thirty minutes to remove slime.

Rinse well.

Drop snails into the hot stock, bring back to the boil and simmer for about one and a half hours. I use a slow cooker for this part of the process so that I can be sure they won’t boil dry. At the end of the cooking process turn off the heat and leave in the stock while you prepare the garlic butter.

For the garlic butter: Per 250 gm pack English butter (taken out of the fridge well ahead of time) which should do 4 dozen snails, depending on how much you like garlic butter.

20gm chopped garlic

40 gm chopped shallot

Freshly picked parsley – enough to colour it green

Add cider to taste but try 70 ml

The herbs, garlic and shallot are most easily chopped in a food processor with the cider unless you are a skilled chef. Then mix well with the butter.

Drain the snails well and reheat with the cider butter in a hot oven in an oven proof dish until the butter bubbles but don’t burn it. Served with crusty bread and a side salad.

Delicious!

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