Recipe: Escargot des Jardin

In the sitcom Frasier, it was put to Niles, brother of Frasier and fellow snob, that he’d eat a worm if it had a French name. Niles, I imagine, would rather like this dish: ‘escargot des jardin’ — or less pretentiously, garden snails.

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The scrumptious garden snail

They’re a free delicacy known to so few. Coming straight out of your garden, they’re fresh and delicious, and no different to what you’d buy in the snootiest French restaurant.

I know what you’re thinking, aren’t they dangerous to eat? Well, they can be if you just boil them straight from the garden. Some preparation is needed first.

Find a container, such as a bucket or biscuit tin, and place a heavy and/or secure lid on top, punctured with several air holes. (I’ve read that someone else ingeniously used tights over a bucket to keep them in, if you want an alternative.) The point is that snails are remarkably strong creatures who can together easily topple a light or unsecured lid. They can lift nearly ten times their their body weight.

Once you’ve found something suitable, go round your garden and collect all the snails you can find. You’re best off hunting in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. Otherwise, wait for after a rainfall and the snails will diffidently emerge. Big ones are obviously the best, but small ones are equally as tasty. Remember, though, that different sizes will require different cooking times, so its best to keep them all rather similar.

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I was surprised at how viciously they ate the carrot

You have to clean them out with a healthy diet. You can choose a variety of things: lettuce, cabbage, oregano etc. It is a good idea to feed them something colourful — literally. You can tell when they’re cleaned out by the colour of their poo. Carrot is good for this reason, though any green vegetable is equally good. (Just don’t mix green and orange, that’d make brown, a mistake I made.) Snails retain the flavour of what they eat, so it’s a good idea to think carefully about what you’re feeding the little buggers.

Cleaning will take four or five days. After that, starve them for a couple more days until they stop pooing (they poo copiously). Make sure you wash the snails and their container every so often, and especially at the end. Oh, and keep a damp layer of water in the container; they like that.

Now the snails are ready to be killed and cooked. Boil them for 5-10 minutes and drain. (They die instantly.) Then get one of those dinky forks, or a skewer or something similar, and pull out the snail meat from the shell. This should be easy. But if it isn’t happening, you can just break the shell.

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The snails, yanked from their shells.

You can eat the whole snail, from the foot to the gut. Many recipes tell you to cut parts off but this is little more than baseless habit or personal taste. However, if anything does look off, feel free to cut it off. I keep all the meat, however, especially for the guts — the tastiest part.

Here’s where it gets interesting. You can do anything you want here: boil, fry, oven-cook, grill, so on. I boiled them first for half an hour to soften the texture and gently fried them with rosemary, chilli and garlic for a crispy, oily outer layer. Then served with some rice. Delicious. (You could also cook a large patch and freeze them.)

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A sort of escargot risotto, quickly made. Excuse the poor presentation.

What a bargain? I didn’t even have to leave the house. And if we do indeed hit another recession in Britain, well at least you and I can now save on the food bills.

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