Bushcraft L’Escargot…

Yes, I mean eating snails.

Known as ‘l’escargot’ by our French neighbours, snails are also eaten as a luxury dish in India, Nigeria, Portugal and Asia. Considering how much easier and safer it is to collect them compared to pegging it after a leaping deer Bear Grylls style, you would do well not to turn your nose up at heliciculture (snail farming). So, what’s the deal with snail steak?

Most land snails are edible. Water snails, especially sea snails, are another thing altogether, with lethally toxic brightly coloured sea slugs and cone shells that can stab you with a poisonous dart. So avoid those.

Poisonous Cone snails (found in the sea):”Drawings of Poisonous Shell Molluscs” by Queensland State Archives is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0..jpg

Snails around the world.

Giant African land snails can reach the size of a human hand, and are often cooked as a delicacy with oodles of chilli and in a rich red sauce. Tiny East Indian lake snails are boiled in a cauldron with rice and spices by cheerful villagers. In France they are served in garlic butter sauce. In Portugal they are a popular bar snack served in the shell with butter and herbs, paired with a nice continental beer. Once I had them around a pig’s trotter in Italy (apologies to vegan readers).

“File/Giant African Snail (Achatina fulica) – An Invasive Species in Hong Kong (6164957561).jpg” by Thomas Brown is licensed under CC BY 2.0..jpg

The scary bit...

It’s all about the preparation. NEVER eat snails or slugs raw. They need to be caught several days before you eat them, fed some tasty food such as carrots or grains for 2 days, then purged (starved) for 2 more days to make sure anything nasty in their gut is gone. You will need to wash the container they are in out daily. This is especially important with slugs, as they are more likely to have eaten (possibly) poisonous mushrooms. After this, they need to be cooked thoroughly to get rid of any parasites. Land molluscs can carry some awful parasites such as rat lungworm, which is every bit as unpleasant as the name suggests. People (usually drunken students or young children) who have eaten raw snails or slugs for a bet have occasionally died after the worms migrated to their brain and caused inflammation. (If you don’t want worms in your brain, just ruddy cook the snails, okay!!)

So now I’ve scared the living daylights out of you, why should you eat snails?

Our land molluscs are surprisingly high in protein (16%, as much as beef!) yet low in fat, which makes them ideal if you are trying to live healthily. They also contain lots of useful minerals such as iron, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium (possibly from munching on your prized vegetation). Even better, catching them is very easy! They are tender on the palate and don’t taste bad. Just about anyone has the space to farm them on a small scale. Expect snails and other small scale protein alternatives such as crickets to be on our menu more and more as sustainability becomes more important.

My son with snails in herb butter, watercress and toast (with frankfurters to make it more normal!) He did eat some, before spitting them out!!

Which snails should I try?

The most common species of wild snail in the UK is Helix aspersa, the Common Brown Snail. These, if you are coming to this the backyard bush crafter way (as I am) are the only UK species big enough to be worth the bother of eating. Farmed snails are just a beefier subspecies of our common wild critters, going under the name of Helix Aspersa Maxima.

Cooked common brown snails – Helix aspersa.

When I was a kid we kept Roman snails as pets. Roman snails (Helix pomatia) are a protected species in the UK, and now quite rare, so it’s not really the done thing to eat them if you find any. This is a shame, as they are a good size.

Roman snail: “Roman snail” by magnetismus is licensed under CC BY 2.0.jpg

There are several businesses in the UK that now farm snails for the restaurant market. Some, like Dorset Snails, also produce snail caviar! This was among the delicacies offered as gifts to a historical Dalai Lama in Tibet. This caviar can be now bought online in tiny 50g pots that can sell for £149, as each snail only lays 100 tiny pinky-white eggs annually! So making it as expensive as the finest Beluga caviar. (Though terrifyingly enough, I also saw an Ebay advert offering the raw product for £10??!! Complete with attached soil!) When sold through a reputable provider, the tiny eggs are cleaned and gently pasteurised with a special process before sale. Great if you want to show off both your wealth and your sustainability credentials…not so good for the bank account. The rest of us proletariat will have to make do with eating our back garden Helix aspersa.

Snail caviar. From Dorset Snails website.

So, how to catch them?

You can either go out after a rain and pluck them from the undersides of large leaves and under pieces of wood/plastic/whatever, or you can build a basic snail trap from a plastic bucket with a funnel in the lid. Place tasty veg (think cucumber, juicy lettuce, carrot) in the bottom of the bucket and clip the lid down firmly (a hole cut in the middle will suffice). Leave for several days. The snails and slugs will find their way in but get confused trying to find the hole and get out again. Transfer them to a container with a lid with no cracks or holes the can get out of, but punch some air holes in the lid or use fine mesh for the top with a brick on top of it. Feed them with fresh veg or grains. Carrot is recommended, as it turns their poo orange, therefore alerting you to the fact whatever they have eaten before is safely out of their system…they do seem to prefer cucumber though!

How do I cook snails and slugs?

‘Thoroughly’ is the answer.

1) First give them a rinse to get bits of snail poo off them.

2) Get a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and tip them in. Boil them for at least 20 minutes. This will kill any parasites.

3) Drain, allow to cool. Prick them out of their shells with the tine of a fork, a snail pin or a bbq skewer.

4) Wash the snail meat in a bath of water with lemon juice or vinegar added – this gets rid of the slime!

5) Use as per your recipe – fry with garlic butter, or add to a creamy sauce with pasta. Or marinade in chilli tomato sauce and bbq on a skewer!

My Nigerian inspired Spicy Snail Kebabs (not bad…)
Indian inspired banded snails with cumin rice and fresh peas. (These were a bit fiddly to eat!)

So what do you think? Would you try snails as I did, or are you utterly disgusted? and if you have, what was your experience? Could these and other small creatures become our main source of meat?

Should we be eating more snails?

Click to vote below!

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