Extreme Cuisine – Snails
Love them or leave them, snails have occupied the imaginations of professional and home-cook chefs for centuries. Usually associated with French cuisine, snails are also popular in many other countries around the world. There are over 100 types of edible snails ranging from the Giant African snail which can measure up to 20 cm and weigh up to 1 kg to the small and bite-sized (and infinitely more familiar) Petit Gris and the Escargot de Bourgogne.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you can actually catch your own wild snails. Just root around in the cool, shady spaces underneath bushes; you’re sure to find plenty of them. My parents did this once. I’m not entirely sure why, perhaps in tribute to their rural Italian heritage. I have to admit that the thought of it leaves me feeling somewhat squeamish. However, if you’re of a stronger constitution and would like to attempt it, there is a strict procedure that must be followed.
First, the snails must be purged. After all, one can never know on what dubious matter they’ve been dining. Starving them for a period of about 48 hours is the first step. Then feed them lettuce leaves. Or do as the ancient Romans did and feed them herbs and wine dregs! Once fattened up, the next step is to put them through a rigorous cleaning process. Rinse them thoroughly in cold water. Then submerge them in a bowl of water and vinegar. Do this two or more times until the water mixture is clear. Finally, they’re ready to be cooked. Poach them for about 3 hours in a court bouillon. Allow them to cool slightly, and enjoy.
For most of us, the closest we get to preparing snails for consumption is by opening the can we purchased at the nearest grocery store. Those snails have already been carefully purged, fattened and finally poached in a flavourful broth; all you have to do is prepare the garlic-butter sauce, and you’re ready to go.