Snails…mmmm….

January 29, 2011

The following is an article of mine originally published in the Permaculture in New Zealand Newsletter, Summer 2010.

This spring preparing a vegetable garden for a friend I was confronted with a carpet of snails underneath all the volunteer growth. The garden had been let go wild for quite some time and was a veritable farm of healthy plump voracious snails. Realizing that unless some action was taken very little would survive in this garden I was faced with a somewhat exaggerated form of the dilemma facing every organic gardener: what to do about the snails and slugs?

While it is common suburban practice to launch snails over the fence to become your neighbors problem this practice is not only ethically dubious but also practically ineffectual as snails are equipped with “homing devices” allowing them to find their way back from distances of some 50 odd metres. Crushing them underfoot is certainly more effective although no less ethically questionable as it is senselessly wasteful of life, albeit a rather slimy form of life.

The solution….The solution is to eat the problem!

In the common garden snail we have a wonderful resource. A little nutrient packet full of protein and minerals (calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and sodium). Many people pick the snails off of their vegetables and feed them to their chickens which does make good use of these wonderful little resources but don’t deprive yourself by giving all the good stuff to the chooks.

Snails are eaten the world over. While they may have become synonymous with French cuisine they are widely eaten throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. They are easy to find, easy to prepare, have a mild flavour, a nice texture and are very nutritious. In making  Escargot de Bourgogne the French use the larger Roman snail (Helix pomatia) but the common garden snail (Helix aspersa maxima) is said by some snail connoisseurs to have a superior flavour to its larger cousin.

Going over the garden at night with a flashlight I pick off the snails and slugs and pop them into a jar. After four or five nights of this I usually have knocked back the populations so severely that it is not worth doing again for another month or two. (If you get a real taste for them you can always offer to deal with your neighbors snail problem too.)

Before eating the snails must be cleansed. They have not only been consuming the beautiful green organic leaves of your garden but potentially all manner of far less appealing organic materials as well. To avoid any risk of getting ill from the snails a seven to ten day detox for your snails is recommended.

The cleansing process I use is to place the snails in a clean container (an old fish tank is perfect but bear in mind that the snails prefer the dark) with a dish of water and a dish of food. The food can be leafy greens, old lettuce or cabbage leaves and/or bran. I change the food and water daily and clean out the container every other day. Make sure there is sufficient air for the snails to breath but be careful as they are very slippery creatures and adept escape artists. They also have incredible strength, particularly in numbers, so make sure your lid is secure.

Cleaning snails

I collect snails from the garden over consecutive nights until I have enough for a good feed. I then place them in the “cleansing house” and do not add any more snails until the current batch has made it to the table. In the meantime, any new snails I gather go into a holding container (exactly the same set up and maintenance as the cleansing container). The point here is simply to ensure that all the snails going to the table have had the required time for cleansing.

And now it is time to eat!

Snails ready to cook

Put your snails into a pot of boiling water for half a minute then drain. With a tooth pick or some kind of skewer spear the fleshy underside of the snail and scoop the meat out of the shell. (The shells can be returned to the garden or utilized in other ways for their high calcium carbonate content). To remove the slime soak the snail meat in salty water for half an hour. Remove, drain and rinse then repeat the process. Repeat a third time if necessary.

The snails are now ready to cook and your own culinary creativity is the limit.  As snails are consumed the world over there is no shortage of inspiration to draw from – butter, garlic and parsley are just the beginning! For the following snail ravioli recipe I poached the snails for about twenty minutes in vegetable stock with onions and herbs.

RAVIOLI D’ESCARGOTS DE BOURGOGNE
SNAIL RAVIOLI

Making snail ravioli
Sauté the poached snails in a sauce of butter, garlic, parsley, a little cream and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
Fill squares of ravioli pasta with the snails then cook in boiling water for four to five minutes.
Enjoy!

Eating snail ravioli

Having successfully consumed your snail problem what about the slugs? Well, slugs are just snails without shells, right? Yep, slugs are so similar in taste to snails that what is sold as snail meat is often, in fact, slug meat. You no longer have pests but rather, a free source of protein and minerals.

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