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simple local vegetables

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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Snails - Escargots - Schnecken.......

I'd just like to point out that this article is actually my reply to a demand from someone to "do a piece on snails" - Here you are, I hope you read it at least!
A delicious little French speciality-just melts in the mouth and not on the hands!

For more recipes follow this link:
A permanent source of amusement and disgust amongst other nations, this beast actually provides some delicious little dishes, and strangely, it resembles another beast, so liked by the British in particular. What would a holiday in the UK be without "cockles and mussels and WHELKS (Escargots de mer) alive-alive-oh"?
And yet - these "whelks" are actually the marine version of the land based beast - the snail.
Surely, in UK they are massacred by being soaked in vinegar, but they can be used equally well for all the dishes quoted for "snails" - un-vinigared of course!

Common Whelk,  Buccinum undatum.
The well known British version over vinegared normally and inedible!

So - why this mockery and disgust with the Gallic habit of cooking (much better) and eating the land variety?
The first thing you must know is that you DON'T eat the shell, you eat the inside contents! Some like them raw, but they do have a tendancy to "wriggle and wriggle and wriggle inside you!"
Secondly - land snails, as opposed to their marine brothers and sisters (they have both sexes - "aphrodite" one could say) are best when collected just following a rain storm, and the fields in France are black, not with snails but with people collecting them! The marine version also tend to be collected everywhere, at low tide, when they are, in fact, out of the water.
Again, unlike the marine version, the land version needs to be "purged" or cleansed, before using them. This consists in keeping them in special cages or baskets, closed to prevent escape towards your lettuces etc.. nothing possible to eat, they "evacuate" (that means - empty their stomach tracts - being polite). This takes roughly 3 days. Keep them out of direct sun - they don't appreciate it!
(A little tip here to protect your garden plants, cheaply. Spread the used coffee grains from your filter around the lettuces, tomatoes etc. Snails don't like that, because the grains enter into their homes - shells - and it's very uncomfortable, a bit like we don't like peas in our beds, nor beach sand in our socks).
Once you have purged them, you are ready to proceed. They must be plunged into boiling, salted water, and when the screaming has died down a little, cook them, slowly, for around 15 minutes, depending on the size. Which brings me to another point - the size.
In tins, but normally very small caliber, not worth the trouble and with little taste.
They come in all sizes, the smaller,whiter ones are not really worth the trouble, they have little taste, little flesh - those are the ones you'll find in tins - cheaply!
The best ones are the large, generally brownly bronzed in colour called "Bourgogne" or Burgundy, due to the fact that one finds them in abundance in the vineyards of that so favourized region of France, but also elsewhere.These are the ones you'll find prepared in garlic butter - stuffed back into their shells and generally frozen.
The taste of these pre-prepared products has nothing, as usual, to do with the fresh variety. They put in additives, conservative, preservatives, taste adders, and the lord alone only knows what else. The butter used is often margarine/butter mixtures, or butter of a low quality.
Make your own! It's easy and simple enough. Just pick out the flesh cooked slowly and allowed to cool. Don't damage the shell and put the shells to one side. You can skip this stage, but the butter later on will not permeate correctly if you do.
Prepare a "maitre d'hotel" butter: (butter mixed-pounded- without cooking, with fresh garlic pounded to a paste, eschalottes very, very, finely diced, a little fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper depending on taste, but not too much, all pounded to a relatively smooth paste.)
This mixture can be made in quantity, because you CAN freeze it, and - cut into roundels - can be used to top grilled steaks and grilled fish. It can also be used to thicken stocks or sauces, but that's a little more advanced!
Finished...? Right - hard work now, take your individual empty shell, put a small amount of butter into it. Take your cooked snail, place it back into the shell and cover each snail with more garlic butter. After that, you should have something looking like this:
Don't try to cheat and do the cooked snail in a gratin dish - it can work, but generally the butter doesn't bathe the individual snails, and burns very quickly in the grill/oven. Done in individual snail shells, the butter is kept in a limited surface - exactly where it is required! Nature has already been very kind, and has supplied the dish and the serving platter! In France, there are literally thousands of shops selling special plates and special "tongs" to serve and eat this type of preparation with, but if you're not a frequent eater, then this is not economic, so you'll just have to burn your fingers on the red hot, just out of the grill/oven shells, and pick out the meat with toothpicks (or whelk prongs - probably more readily available in Britain) and then turn the shell upside down and let the melted butter run into and scald your mouth! You could, obviously pour it onto a piece of crispy crunchy French bread, but I don't know where you would find that in Britain!
Anyway - here are the special dishes which come directly from the grill/oven to table:
Larger portion - in metal
in ceramique - small portion  
Of course, if you're lazy, you could always try using this species of the snail family, not advised, because I believe it's poisonous! 
To have an idea of size, look at the hand holding it!Two tons of garlic butter should suffice!
So - that is the snail's destiny, often, but I'm not finished with the subject, next time around I'll let you into the secret of other dishes made from this succulent little garden pest! Such as these two:
A la paysanne!

En épinard (spinach) a la creme..!
These will all be those dishes you must eat quickly, because ( I can testify) when you approach the plate with your fork, a snail can move very, very quickly........!

iwmpop (mr le marquis)         ****      Vauvert, France         *****      Août 2010
The author in summer........!


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Lecker...Tasty... Appétissante

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******* iwmpop (mr le marquis)- Vauvert, France - Janvier 2011