The Incredible Edible Snail by Eliana Corral

24 09 2008

 

After touching on the subject in class that snails are included under “other seafood”, I began to realize that I did not know very much about these little creatures. After researching the history of the snail in a culinary setting it became apparent that they have been around for a very long time. Snails have been consumed at least since ancient Roman times. The author of the oldest surviving cooking book, Apicius, has a recipe for cooking snails in his book. The estimated time of this book dates back between the 1st century B.C – 2nd century A.D. Discarded roasted snail shells have been found in archeological digs that leads us to believe that snails have been enjoyed since prehistoric times.

There are many different types of edible snails all over the world they differ in size and location. The two most common are Helix Aspersa also called ‘the grey snail’, and Helix Pomatia also called ‘the Roman snail’. In California and Japan some edible snails are called Abalone. In Greece they are called Tsalingaria. In parts of Europe and South Africa you can find the Periwinkle snail. In France snails are called Escargot [ehs-kahr-GOH]. There are edible land snails ranging in size from ¼ inch to giant African snails growing up to 12 inches. The traditional escargot is the common garden variety snail. Escargot is available fresh, chilled, canned, or frozen.

Nowadays it is said that the French consume about 44,000 tons of snails each year, and restaurants serve about one billion snails annually. Heliculture is the science of growing snails for food, or snail farming. This has become a more popular practice as it allows people the opportunity to bring something new to their home menus. If you were to choose to grow your own snails you run the risk of having to throw them out because of cross contamination with harmful pesticides. Very careful and strict practices must be taken in order to ensure that all snail farming is safe for consumption. There are 19 edible types of snails, and the easiest way to cook them is to buy them canned. Canned snails have been the preferred choice over the years, and canned snails are ready for immediate use.

Snail, the little mollusk, is traditionally served baked in the shell with a sauce of garlic, shallots, parsley, and butter. In case you are interested in trying what a large population considers a delicacy, here is a recipe for basic Escargot.

Bon Apetit!

Snails in Garlic Butter or “Escargots a la Bourguignonne”

24 canned snails, rinsed and drained

1 shallot, sliced

¼ lb unsalted butter cut in cubes

<!–[if !supportLists]–>8 <!–[endif]–> garlic cloves

1 small parsley bunch, about 1 cup

12 basil leaves

Salt & freshly ground pepper

Directions:

  1. In a pan on medium heat, melt 1 oz of butter and sweat the shallots and snails for 3-4 min. Season with salt & pepper, stir and store in a bowl.

  1. In a small bowl of a food processor, chop the garlic, parsley, and basil leaves. Add the cubed butter, salt, and pepper until the butter is soft and the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

  1. Arrange the sautéed snails in individual ovenproof serving dishes, cover each dish with a generous tablespoon of garlic butter. Before baking, sprinkle a teaspoon of breadcrumbs on top of the snails.

  1. Bake in a 400°F oven for 10-15 min, until the butter begins to bubble and brown. Serve with a crusty French baguette for sopping up the sauce.

Note: Canned escargots can be bought, complete with empty shells for serving, in most supermarkets in the U.S.

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