Escargot is something that we think of as being a gourmet meal found in exquisite fine-dining establishments that have high price tags. However, the snail species that was originally used for this delicacy is nothing more than you’re run of the mill French garden pest that was brought to America more than a century ago. They’re also one of the most-destructive and invasive, and gardens through out the south and western United States are prone to being ravaged by these voracious eaters. There are also a handful of other common species that reportedly taste similar to the gourmet variety as well.
Consequently, eating many of the snail species that we come across is a practical way to keep populations under control and protect our gardens while also providing us with a readily-available source of nutrition. In an emergency, snails can provide a tastier and more-satisfying alternative to many of the other critters that we would otherwise be forced to forage and eat as well.
While you can forage and pick off snails one by one, there are a couple of methods that are more-efficient and can increase your chances of catching a good haul. Snails are most-active following rain, when gardens have been watered, or when there is a lot of dew on the ground. They are also nocturnal. Snails also love eating bran for some reason. With that in mind, find a spot in your garden where snails tend to congregate, place a small mound of bran in the middle, and prop up an upside down flower pot over the feed. This will give snails space to get inside and start eating, and they’ll climb and stick to the inner walls of the pot when finished. You can grab the pot, cover it up, and give yourself access to a good number of snails in a short amount of time.
Another brilliant trick is to wrap copper bands around trees that attract snails. Snails don’t like copper, and they won’t slide over it. However, they will tend to gather below the bands, near the base of trees, and this makes it easy to pluck them off. Once caught, store them in a bucket or container with a tight-fitting lid that has air holes poked out until you’re ready to prepare and cook them.
While you can eat snails live, raw or by cooking them immediately after capture, they taste the best when they are starved for a few days beforehand. This allows them to fully-digest their last meal and excrete nasty-tasting remnants from their bodies. Consequently, let them rest in their containers for about three days. When ready to prepare, inspect the snails and only use the ones that pop their heads out of their shells or show other signs of life. Discard the rest.
The next step is to de-slime them. All you need to do is rinse the snails and container with water, fill it with fresh water until it covers the snails, and add in a couple of tablespoons of vinegar. Let the snails soak for about an hour before changing out the water and repeat. The snails will be ready for cooking in about four hours.
Removing the Shells
Some snails have shells that are easier to remove than others. As a general rule of thumb, the fastest way to loosen the shells is to soak the snails in simmering water for about 10 minutes before letting them cool until they’re safe to be touched. In some cases, you can crush the shells and gouge out the meat with a small utensil whereas their meat can be scooped out in others. Sometimes you’ll have to cut the meat near the tail from the shell as well. Finally, peel off the thin layer of skin that is atop the meat and you’re good to go.
There are all kinds of ways to cook snail meat, but one of the easiest to start with is by simmering them in a broth of your choosing in a saucepan for a few hours. The important thing is to make sure that the meat is covered with liquid at all times to prevent it from drying out or scorching.
So there you have it, you can make your own escargot and enjoy a free gourmet meal anytime you have an opportunity to gather snails. They also make for a simple and nutrient-rich survival meal as well. Take a closer look at how you can take advantage of this resource, and experiment with a few different cooking methods and recipes until you find the ones that work and taste best.