S317: Snails

At Thanksgiving last year I wrote about loving snails, escargot for holidays.

When I moved to Phoenix in ’92 I sought out the restaurant supply stores first thing. We used live adjacent to the Bowery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and I just loved wandering in and out of the restaurant supply stores that were clustered there. Anyway, in Phoenix I found the mini-metal escargot platters, snail clamps and forks and the empty shells – all for serving escargot. Okay, I admit that the accoutrements are part of the pleasure, the ritual of eating snails.

Yes, I believe it is true what they say, “Escargot is simply a garlic butter delivery system.” It is that head-filling luciousness in the air when the escargot would come out of the ovens at the French Café where I worked in the late 70’s that did it for me. I was typical in my repulsion of the idea of eating snails. But, weeks and weeks of this seductive aroma did me in and when I sampled my first half dozen I became a convert for life.

Recently I was treated to snails by a fellow activist. We were rewarding ourselves for walking through a bunch of neighboring motor home parks to canvass for our preferred local city council candidates. I am so out of shape I was sweating and exhausted after the first 2 hours. This stopping for a beer was all the treat I needed. But, I was without my wallet so the gallant colleague treated me. ZOMG, for a minute there I was missing my past life of plenty. I roused myself out of it. Later, this is what got stuck in my mind . . .

This interview with a chef some years ago in an article titled, Eating Your Garden Snails.
So, where do you get your snails?

Gardens. I collected over 400 snails once from a friend's garden. My advice is to check the calla lilies -- you can always find snails on calla lilies.

Is there a special way you cook snails?

What you have to do first with snails is purify them, because -- well, for all you know, they might have just eaten some snail bait. They don't put arsenic in snail bait anymore, but a lot of snail-bait products do contain insecticide, and carbaryl is not something you want to eat.

Typically, the purification ritual lasts for two weeks. You purge snails by feeding them greens or corn meal -- something like that. I just feed them corn meal, and I give them water and I change their food almost daily until I know that their systems are clean.

What kind of pen do you use? If someone wants to venture into snail ranching, what equipment should they buy?

Don't use a cardboard box, because snails can chew through cardboard with their teeth, their little rasping mouth parts. A friend of mine keeps his snails in an old bathtub. I use a big plastic recycling bin. Remember to keep it covered, or they will escape.

After your snails are purified, how do you cook them?

You boil them first for 10-15 minutes. This forms an incredibly disgusting scum that you must keep cleaning off and cleaning off and cleaning off the top until it's clear -- you might even need to change the water. When the scum is gone, you know the snails are okay -- they're done.

After the snails die, most of them separate from their shells, but some you need to pull out -- that's easy. When they're all removed, you just chop up the snails, dice them up fine and mix them with olive oil, garlic, butter and parsley. Mix them all together, stuff everything back into the snail shells and then bake them until they're hot and bubbly.

If you don't want to deal with the difficulty of stuffing shells and eating them out of shells, you can just cook them inside mushroom caps or in baking dishes that have little depressions. Italians also sometimes use snails in pasta sauce.

You chop the snails up? Don't some people eat them whole?

Yes, you can do that, but I think they're more attractive diced because they are so chewy if they're whole. Most people have an aversion to the chewiness.

What do snails taste like?

Its a great appetizer, absolutely delicious. Anything that has butter, olive oil, garlic and parsley in it is going to taste delicious. Tennis shoes would taste good with those ingredients. In my opinion, snails are like mushrooms -- they just pick up the flavors of whatever they're cooked in.

I love the idea of one day having chickens and, using a chicken tractor, letting them feast around the 6’ wide aloe plant that attracts hundreds of snails. Sustainability, my green friends!

Schoolgirl braves snail trail
A nine-year-old Cheshire schoolgirl has broken the world record for having the most snails on her face at once.

Tiana Walton allowed 25 of the slimy creatures to cover her eyes, nose and mouth - beating the previous record of 15 held by Australian Liam Kenny.

Before her record breaking attempt, now in the Guinness Book of World Records, Tiana's previous personal best was just nine.

She had just one minute to put the snails on her face and then had to tip her head forward for 10 seconds. Any snails that fell off during that period were not counted.
Tiana said: "I am not squeamish. It is relaxing but it feels a bit cold. They are quite smelly and you can see their big long eyes."

Asked whether she thought her new record would be beaten, she added: "I don't think many people will be bothered about putting snails on their face!"

With Tiana's success, it would seem that record breaking runs in the Walton family.
Her mother Tommy appeared in the Guinness Book of World Record in 1980 for growing the largest lemon in the world, which weighed in at 3lb 14oz.

So, why do I subject you to this image, this story? I believe that for our own survival we need to challenge ourselves to get out of our comfort zones. Chile Chews wrote about eating rat and other gag-inducing pests this last year. As with the Yuk Factor, the Ick Factor posts, I want to stress that cultural forces, socialization isn’t always for our best interests. Often there is an ulterior motive as simple as selling us stuff to the more treacherous inciting us to attack others with the false (and heinous) tactics of bullies and despots.

So, I trust my own sense of revulsion for the most part. But, when I am nudged I push myself to explore. Nudged by Shakesville on this one.

Snail image at map from Slow Foods
Escargot in Paris from Flickr

Looks like a week of shocking images.

1 comment:

Chile said...

I think our growth often comes from the times we push past the comfort zones. I think, however, I can manage to grow without putting snails all over my face. ;-)