Snails

Common brown snails, the sort you find in the garden, can be just about worth eating but you have to put in time and a lot of extra flavour to make a worthwhile dish – but with the benefit of managing the numbers of molluscs in your garden during the early growing season (April-June), it might be worth the effort. Have a look around the web for more information but this is what I’ve been doing …

It’s the larger brown common garden ones you’re after, rather than the smaller banded ones. Collect the big ones, despatch or relocate (local journey to woods, public open space etc.) the small ones – youthful brown ones or banded. Clear your garden on a regular basis.

Put all the large ones into a big box. I’ve used an old plastic header tank with the big holes taped up with a few air holes drilled in the sides, with some gravel on the bottom, covered with a piece of Perspex. Purists can construct something out of untreated wood. Tuck away in a cool corner out of direct sunlight.

Snails need access to water and something to eat. Oatmeal is recommended – you're fattening them up – they seem fine on porridge oats. I’ve also been flinging in the outer leaves of cabbage, lettuce and a carrot or two. Refresh food and water every couple of days. They’ll be happy enough in here but they do get pretty mucky and the container and snails need to be washed out every 7-10 days. Much easier to keep once they’re in the freezer so …

Take out as many mature snails as you can handle at once (a mature snail has a ridge, or small shelf, at the front of its shell), 40 - 50 a time is about the top limit (depending on the size of your large saucepan).  Check all are alive and healthy, dead ones should be discarded. Put those selected in another container – in my case a big flower pot with a plate on top. Give them 2-3 sliced carrots and leave them for a couple of days.

Then give them a good wash in cold water, drain them – harden your heart and put them into sealed plastic boxes or glass jars and put them in the fridge overnight (you can leave them for a day or two without harm). They will think it’s winter and go to sleep.

Get some water boiling fast in a large saucepan. Tip your snails in and, once it’s come back to the boil, boil for 3 minutes. They know nothing about it. Then drain and rinse in cold water.

Then the rather shuddery bit of dragging them out of their shells. You need a sharp knife or a pair of tweezers – something to get a grip. They should come out quite easily and rather slimily.

You then need to rinse them about 3 times with dilute vinegar to get rid of the slime and then they need to be cooked again.

Half fill the saucepan with cold water. Add a couple of halved onions, parsley, bay leaves, a gurgle of vinegar, salt and pepper and snails … heat and boil gently for about 90 mins.

What you’re left with is basic snail meat – grey, rubbery and not very flavoursome –it is yet to be transformed but it’s at this stage that you can freeze it.

There are plenty of snail recipes on the web and to be honest the one below is the only one I’ve tried but it goes down well with my family – who, doubtful of the enterprise in the beginning, now tuck in quite enthusiastically.

Mushrooms stuffed with snails  (weights and numbers are a bit arbitrary)

9-12 large closed mushrooms

100-150 gms of chopped snail meat

3-4 large cloves of garlic

a bunch of parsley

salt and pepper

good tablespoon of butter

breadcrumbs

grated hard cheese

 – put the butter (use cold), parsley, garlic salt and pepper into a food-processor and blend or chop, pound and mix by hand.

– clean and pull the stalks out of the mushrooms

– generously smear the insides of the mushrooms with the garlic/parsley/butter paste and rub the outsides with the same.

– push the chopped snail meat into the mushroom cavity and top with some more paste and arrange on a baking tray with the mushroom stalks

– mix the breadcrumbs and grated cheese and sprinkle on to each filled mushroom

– put in the middle of a moderate oven for about an hour but check at 40 minutes – cover with an aluminium sheet if they look as if they’re getting over-brown

– remove and serve as a starter (with more parsley and a quarter of lemon) but they are substantial enough for a main meal with a serving of pasta, rice and salad etc.

 

PM