Question: I am seeking information on raising escargots, a.k.a. snails, for food. Could you tell me how to decontaminate garden snails for human consumption? A friend of ours is eating them and sometimes has peculiar stomach pains. Are snails nutritious?
Answer: The common brown garden snail, which was originally brought to this country from France, is the same type of escargot that is eaten in many restaurants. Another type of snail is the lighter-colored milk snail from Italy, which unlike the thriving brown snail doesn't survive this country's climate, according to Dr. George K. York, extension food technologist at UC Davis. He said that snails are low in calories (about 90 calories per 100 grams of the meat), high in protein and rich in minerals.
The only danger in eating garden snails is when they have ingested poisons for snail control. To eliminate this danger when the poison control has been applied, York advises waiting six weeks before gathering the snails. "Snails have a good immune system, too," York said. "We fed some staphylococcus and salmonella to snails and found that the organisms don't survive in these animals."
Larger mature snails have tastier meat than small ones and are easier to remove from their shells, the food technologist explained. They should be collected however, when they are about the size of peas, or about 10 days after hatching. Place them in a fine mesh cage and feed with cornmeal and chopped lettuce or other greens until they are large enough, about one to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
Here are York's instructions for making snails edible for consumption:
The gathered snails must be purged of any off flavor or toxic materials from previously eaten food. To do so, place about one-half inch damp cornmeal in the bottom of a container, such as a plastic basket, metal pan or crock.
Place the snails in the container and cover with a ventilated or screen top, such as a cheesecloth or nylon netting that would allow for air as well as visibility. Weight the cover along the sides with bricks or tie it securely so the snails do not escape. Place the container in a cool, shady area and let the snails purge themselves by eating the cornmeal for at least 72 hours.
If you wish to keep them there longer, replace the cornmeal every other day to prevent it from molding and souring. The snails feed, then crawl up on the side of the container to rest. Only active snails should be used; discard inactive ones on the bottom. After 72 hours, the snails should be washed thoroughly with cold running water to remove the cornmeal from their shells.
Heat a large pot of boiling water with bay leaf and then plunge in the live snails. Simmer about 15 minutes. Drain well. With wood pick or pointed knife, pull the snail meat from the shell. If desired, save shells for later use. Remove and discard the dark-colored gall, a quarter-inch protrusion on the tail end where the snail is attached to the shell. Rinse the snail several times under running water.
The snail meat is now ready to be used in a recipe or packaged and frozen for later use. To prepare the empty shells for use, boil them in boiling soda water (use a quarter-teaspoon baking soda per pint of water). Drain and rinse in cold running water, then dry.