How to cook snails and discover snail caviar!
French snails and snail caviar!
Did you know that we have eaten land snails since prehistoric times, they were considered elite food by the Romans and their eggs today are as valuable as Beluga caviar? It’s hardly surprising then that on 24th May National Escargot Day is celebrated!
Snail Farms in France
Heliciculture is the name given to the practice of snail farming for food and there are 300 snail producers across France. Snails are however eaten widely across the world and France only accounts for amazingly 5% of world snail production!
Do the French like snails?
700 million are eaten every year in France, that’s almost a dozen per head of population, so you could say that the French have a real passion for this little critter!
Are all snails edible?
However, not all snails are edible, and in France, three varieties are consumed, Helix Pomatia (Roman snail), Petit Gris or Helix Aspersa (garden snail) and Helix Lucorum (European snail).
Maybe you have considered collecting a few from the garden and having a go at cooking them yourself? Well, a word of caution which may put the uninitiated off. Snails often carry parasites which can be harmful and even fatal to humans and what is more their shells soak up toxins and pollutants from the air too. In fact, eating wild snails could even cause meningitis, so unless you know what you are doing snail preparation is best left to the experts.
How to prepare snails
Chefs will starve snails of food for 3 days giving them only water, then to purify they feed them flour and water for a week. The food preparation is now ready to begin. Firstly the snails are put to sleep then boiled after which the shell is removed, and the meat cooked in garlic butter, chicken stock or wine. They are returned to the shell pasted with more butter and sauce for in readiness for serving. Thyme, parsley and pinenuts are other ingredients that are sometimes added.
Each region has its own recipe, for instance, one of the most popular appetizers in Burgundy offers snails cooked in a small ceramic dish that is covered in puff pastry.
The best way to eat snails
Although you can actually buy snails tinned, they are best cooked from fresh and served in special porcelain indented bowls with space for 6 or 12. As for how you eat them, well special tongs are required for holding the shells and tiny forks are employed for extracting the meat
They are traditionally accompanied by a fresh white wine such as a Chardonnay. However, if they are served in a lemon butter a Sauvignon Blanc would be a perfect partner.
What do they taste like?
High in protein and low in fat snails don’t have much taste themselves but take on the delicate flavour of the sauce and seasoning. Slightly chewy with a soft consistency not unlike mushroom, dripping in garlic butter, they for many are simply delicious!
- Snails can see but can’t hear
- They can lift 10x their own body weight
- Snails move 50 yards an hour
- Most live 2-5 years
- Most are hermaphrodites
- They mate for 12 hours
- A single snail can provide up to 430 eggs a year
- Snails are ready to eat after 6 months old
- The Giant American snail at 12 inches long is the largest snail in the world
One of the up and coming by-products is Snail caviar or escargot pearls. These are colourless snail eggs that look like Tapioca and pop in the mouth. They taste like baked asparagus and are served on toast with sour cream and champagne. Given how many eggs a single snail lays a year you may then conclude that snail eggs must be expensive to farm and therefore be very exclusive. Well, at £2700 per kilo this puts them at the same price as the much-prized Beluga caviar! An average serving of two tablespoons costs about 80 euros!
Supporting local snail producers
Many villages across France support annual snail festivals featuring local producers. La Coquille in the North Dordogne is no exception and in July, the village has a huge snail fest with copious amounts of the delicious mollusc cooked to perfection.
If you fancy learning more about snails then a visit to L’escargot du Perigord near Vaunac in the North Dordogne is a must, finished to perfection with a tasting of course!