Sunday, April 02, 2006

Ever wonder how you'd go about eating the snails in your garden? Well wonder no more...

After discovering hordes of cute but voracious little snails overrunning my garden, I got to wondering, as I often do about living things that cross my path, whether they're edible. I had a plateful of escargot long ago at Chez Jean in Cambridge, MA (now Chez Henri's) and I kinda liked the flavor -- the flavor being primarily butter and garlic and salt and also more butter. So I did some research on the handy Interweb and discovered that the snails colonizing my garden here in the Bay Area are the very same species that populate the plates of French gourmands. Apparently a French entrepreneur imported them to the region during the Gold Rush in the hopes of satisfying the palates of sophisticated miners. It turned out there weren't many miners matching that description, so he ended up dumping his inventory, bequeathing us the legions of pesky escargot who defoliate our gardens today.

If you like combining your pest control efforts with culinary experimentation, you can learn how to serve up the slimy yet savory suckers in this SF Chronicle interview with Berkeley horticulturist and snail aficionado Victor Yool. The key steps are:

  • Obtain a supply of snails by perusing various outdoor plants. Calla lilies are apparently one likely locale.

  • Rid the snails of any impurities, such as snail poison set out by less enterprising gardeners. This can be accomplished by feeding them corn meal or tasty greens or some other mild vegetarian diet for a couple weeks. Yes, a couple weeks. I never said this would be fun. You'll also need a secure place to keep your snails; some sort of large plastic bin with a top to prevent escape should do the trick.

  • Next, toss them all in a pot of boiling water and skim off the vast quantities of nasty scum that will apparently arise as a result. In fact, you may need to change the water, such are the quantities. Again, never said this would be fun. After all the scum's gone, your snails are ready for eating.

  • Since snails don't taste like much (though one ungenerous soul mentioned in the interview likened them to burned rubber bands) you should now douse them in some combination of butter, salt, pepper, garlic, and any other spices that come to mind. Or if nothing in particular comes to mind, here are some escargot recipes to help things along.

    Incidentally, I also once ate a plate of grasshoppers. Or perhaps they were locusts. Definitely not katydids, though. In flavor, they combined the subtle charms of shrimp and corn nuts. In appearance, they resembled a car windshield after a high-speed crossing of the Great Plains. One of these days I'll track down some recipes for those tasty critters as well.


    Blogger Chrissa said...

    I tried to do this once. Our yard in the Mission was overrun with snails, and my friend insisted they were the very variety prized by French chefs. We swiftly gathered an impressive passel of les escargots, put them in my mop bucket, and covered the top with Saran Wrap punctured with breathing holes. Do snails breathe? Well, breathing or not, this slimy army busted out with the ease of MacGyver, oozing off the planks of our second-story porch before morning. I admit, I was kind of relieved.

    8:55 AM  

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