It is well-known that people eat snails in France and some other nationalities baulk at the very idea of consuming these slimy, slow-moving, pink-coloured gastropods. It is a matter of taste, but once you go for mussels, raw oysters and sea snails like the winkle or whelk, the step to snails is not that big.
Of course, snails are cleaned before consumption – they are left without food for a few days to rinse their digestive track and are usually kept in a solution of water, vinegar and some herbs.
The Burgundy snail and petit gris are most used in France. The Burgundy snail, Helix Pomatia, is often especially farmed. Despite its name, it is found al of Europe and even when you buy a jar of Burgundy snails in France it may come from another country.
Snails, like the fruits de mer and, apparently, insects, are high in protein and low in fat. Snails mainly contain water.
In France, they are usually served as a starter with garlic, parsley and butter.
However, some restaurants prepare the snails too long in advance and then put them back in the shells, plug the shells with a garlicky parsley butter and reheat that under the grill or in an oven. The result is a tough rubbery snail in a sea of fat with a taste of garlic. You could better eat straight garlic butter, and then some parsley for the vitamins as well as to contain the odours on your breath.Garlic is good against infections and helps to keep cholesterol levels in check.
What I like in snails is the earthly taste and a certain bite – not weak, not rubbery but with some resistance.
In this recipe, I made a stew of snails. I used water cress, instead of parsley, for its mustard-like, peppery taste and nutritional values.
Watercress is rich in vitamin C, calcium, iron and folic acid. It contains anti-cancer phyto chemicals such as beta-carotene and flavonoids. It is good for the kidney and liver functions.
Because the cress, once cooked, becomes a bit mushy like spinach, I added tofu to add body. It would have been more classical French to use cream, but that would have given less consistency.
There was garlic and there were small potatoes. It combined very nicely indeed.
Ingredients (for two)
- Two dozen Burgundy snails without shells
- One bunch of watercress
- Four cloves of garlic
- Two shallots
- 30 grammes of tofu (white fermented soy paste)
- 250 grammes of small potatoes (rattes de Touquet)
- Pepper and salt
- Wash the watercress, take off the stems, drain, put in a high pan and cook for a while. The French call this “faire tomber” (to let it fall) as you put a piled bunch of green in the pan and it shrinks in size. Keep it tenderly green (if you cook more, you will have less of a mass of cress and a darker green until it turns black and you spoiled it). Four minutes maximum.
- Wash the potatoes and put them in a pan with salted water, unpeeled, bring to the boil and cook for some ten minutes, test with a fork to see if they are done.
- Chop the garlic and onion.
- Put some butter in a large casserole, add the chopped garlic and shallots, stir and add the snails, cook for five to 10 minutes depending on the intensity of the heat, test with a fork for resistance.
- Sprinkle with pepper (and salt if so desired).
- Put the cress and tofu in a blender (or use an immersion blender) and turn into a green creamy mass.
- When the elements are assembled, add the cress mass to the snail mix and serve with the potatoes.