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Can you eat snails?

All hail the snail?
I used to think eating these slimy garden pests was disgusting, the sort of thing you’d do in a Bush Tucker Trial on “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”. But my first taste of snail, stuffed with a delectable combination of breadcrumbs and parsley, left me wanting more. It seems the French, who consume about 700 million snails a year, are onto something. As well as being delicious with garlic, snails are a great source of protein and, best of all, they are all over the place. At a time when purse strings are tightening, shouldn’t we be celebrating the snail – looking to the ground, lifting flowerpots in search of this free and abundant meat? There are English recipes for snails going back centuries and we’ve been exporting our snails to the French since the 1890s. So can we eat the ones in our back gardens?

Andrew Downes, a partner in South West Snails, who breed the Helix aspersa (or garden snail) for chefs Gordon Ramsay, Albert Roux and Gary Rhodes said: “Every variety of snail is potentially edible, though some have a finer taste and texture than others.” But Downes warns against picking your own: “It’s a lottery. Some snails might have eaten slug pellets or pesticides or toxic plants and pass that on to you.” The snails that make it into Heston Blumenthal’s famous snail porridge have been fed from birth on carefully vetted veg. But a snail living in Holloway is unlikely to have had such a wholesome diet.

Some hardened snail foragers reckon it is possible to just boil them up straight from the garden. But if you’re unconvinced, it is a good idea go through the process that those in the trade call purging. Here are some suggestions for how to find them, purge them and eat them.

The most common edible snails are the small grey Helix aspera and the Roman snail, or Helix pomatia. Snails are nocturnal and it’s easiest to find them in the morning, when they are resting. You can go out and pick them up or prop a moist board above the ground the night before and they should be stuck to it in the morning. Snails smaller than one inch aren’t worth picking.

To clean them, put them in a bucket with lettuce or cabbage and oats for a week for them to clear out their systems. If you want to do some pre-seasoning, add wine and leafy herbs. Stretching a pair of tights over the bucket is popular as snails can team up and lift heavy lids to make their escape.  This article recommends feeding them a carrot to test if they are free of toxins. If their poo is orange, it means they are safe…

After that, all you have to do is choose how you want to cook them. Here is some inspiration:

Snail porridge

Snails in garlic butter

Snails with bacon and mushrooms

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. Elle #

    And just as I was wondering how to make ends meet till the end of the month. Thanks for the great tip!

    November 6, 2011

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