[In answer to a sudden influx of requests, Over the Line, Smokey!'s crack agricultural import legal team has advised us that shipping, mailing or carrying snails across state lines, or enabling such conduct, might result in lengthy prison terms and/or massive fines. OTL,S!, therefore, will not send you snails, unless you live in California, in which case you don't need anyone to send you snails.]
Yes, those brown and yellow garden snails you host in your backyard are the same animals that are served as a delicacy in Europe. In fact, they were imported from France in the 19th century for that purpose, but the American palate did not cooperate. They have migrated to the wild.
the local common garden snail is the European brown — Helix aspersa. They were imported here in the early 1850s by a Frenchman who intended to sell them as food, but the market here during the Gold Rush was too unsophisticated for snails. He ended up dumping some snails, and another collection escaped. Snails are hermaphroditic, so of course they reproduced like crazy. …The real enemy of snails is bad weather — snails need a mild climate to survive in, because they freeze. They also don’t do well if it’s too hot and dry. They don’t live all over the United States, you know. People in Wisconsin never have snails in their garden. Neither do my Italian grandparents in New Jersey..
As far as preparation, there is only one problem:
What you have to do first with snails is purify them, because — well, for all you know, they might have just eaten some snail bait. They don’t put arsenic in snail bait anymore, but a lot of snail-bait products do contain insecticide, and carbaryl is not something you want to eat.
Typically, the purification ritual lasts for two weeks. You purge snails by feeding them greens or corn meal — something like that. I just feed them corn meal, and I give them water and I change their food almost daily until I know that their systems are clean.
What kind of pen do you use? If someone wants to venture into snail ranching, what equipment should they buy?
Don’t use a cardboard box, because snails can chew through cardboard with their teeth, their little rasping mouthparts. A friend of mine keeps his snails in an old bathtub. I use a big plastic recycling bin. Remember to keep it covered, or they will escape.
Then it’s pretty routine:
After your snails are purified, how do you cook them?
You boil them first for 10-15 minutes. This forms an incredibly disgusting scum that you must keep cleaning off and cleaning off and cleaning off the top until it’s clear — you might even need to change the water. When the scum is gone, you know the snails are okay — they’re done.
After the snails die, most of them separate from their shells, but some you need to pull out — that’s easy. When they’re all removed, you just chop up the snails, dice them up fine and mix them with olive oil, garlic, butter and parsley. Mix them all together, stuff everything back into the snail shells and then bake them until they’re hot and bubbly.
If you don’t want to deal with the difficulty of stuffing shells and eating them out of shells, you can just cook them inside mushroom caps or in baking dishes that have little depressions. Italians also sometimes use snails in pasta sauce.
So grab that recipe book, and get busy. I’m sure your neighbors will be happy to have you “hunt” their property.