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Escargot Snails


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Over on the 1789 thread, Poivrot Farci criticizes both 1789 and Bistro Bis for allegedly using canned snails in their escargot. That got me thinking about where they come from and how to they arrive in most restaurant's kitchens. Do some suppliers ship them live; do some restauranteuers go out into the garden and harvest them themselves? What is the nature of the snail distribution chain? Does Marcel’s use canned ones as well? Is there something inherently inferior about using canned snails?

eta: in the meantime, I have been well educated by Poivrto Farci on snails. There is a lot I didn't know.

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I have yet to read the thread that gave birth to this one, as I am indolent and, frankly, somewhat inebriated.

But I do recall a passage from Tony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook on the topic which claims:

"The truth? I don't know any restaurant, have never in twenty-eight years seen any U.S. restaurant -- no matter how good or prestigious -- use fresh snails."

Of course, I make no claim that this represents an unimpeachable source.

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I have yet to read the thread that gave birth to this one, as I am indolent and, frankly, somewhat inebriated.

But I do recall a passage from Tony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook on the topic which claims:

"The truth? I don't know any restaurant, have never in twenty-eight years seen any U.S. restaurant -- no matter how good or prestigious -- use fresh snails."

Of course, I make no claim that this represents an unimpeachable source.

When I worked at the Watergate for Jean-Louis, he used fresh Burgundy snails. The critters would get out and crawl the walls. The smell of them cooking is pretty revolting even if the final product is tasty.

Canned snails are fairly common and can be quite high quality.

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Yes? Will one of you write the tutorial, now that the subject's up? Please?

The connotation of "criticizes" implies a negative criticism. My gripe was the lollipop review.

For a street-corner hot-dog stand to garnish their tube steaks with canned snails, or if one prefers the canned to the fresh or if space or time or procurement is an issue, fine. I expect more from high-end-gourmet houses. Anyone has the ability to open a can and as a traditionalist who still shaves with a flat razor blade and writes with a quill, I choose to judge chefs and restaurants based on their ability to transform raw products as in all a trades, be it carpentry or leatherwork. Palena uses fresh snails. Not sure about Marcel’s, Eve, Cityzen or Amsterdam Falafel.

I care for neither fresh nor canned snails but my experience has been that the canned snails are chewier and are stored in an unpleasant liquid/syrup of sorts that resembles a filthy version of the juice found inside of a dashboard compass. I find the texture unpleasant. Periwinkles I don’t mind because they can be swallowed whole. Fresh snails are more tender and delicate, not overpowered by their juice and don’t need to be masticated so much.

There are snail farms (heliciculture - not to be confused with the “E lei ka lei lei” Don Ho beach party song) on the east coast in Pennsylvania and Delaware, and others on the west coast that raise helix pomatia, the most common edible snail (60ct when bought canned). Smaller helix aspersa are 90ct/can. Often, the snails are raised on small patches of grass edged with ash (which burns them)and Smurfs, which contains them much like barbed wire and cowboys contains cattle, though on a smaller, slower scale. Wild, ahem, garden snails cornu aspersum need to be purified/fed cornmeal or greens for a week to clean their insides, or starved. Some then place them in salt to disgorge the impurities and slime and such. Once the gastropods are blanched quickly (or they become tough) the operculum (trap door) is discarded and the foot is pulled free from the intestines and whathaveyou. Given the quantity of creatures in a 10# bag, the mightiest would cook and can their own. You can order them via the intertronweb like you would crayfish, only your 4th of July Bar-B-Que won't even make the Lyndon LaRouche newsletter Style section.

The snails are then cooked slowly (or they toughen and shrink like mussels) to one’s taste.

The process is long and tedious, like the superbowl halftime show, but some like it...

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But I do recall a passage from Tony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook on the topic which claims:

"The truth? I don't know any restaurant, have never in twenty-eight years seen any U.S. restaurant -- no matter how good or prestigious -- use fresh snails."

Of course, I make no claim that this represents an unimpeachable source.

had drinks with Mr. Bourdain a few years back. He really liked the fish soup, sweetbreads and cheese plate at Bistro Bis when he was in DC. He smokes Kent cigarettes. He doesn't pretend to know everything culinary and after reading that he was impressed by Scott Bryan's uniformally cut chives, my expectations of his standards dropped slightly. Nice guy however. I envy some of his travels. Most of his Jamaica trip segment was censored for television. Top Brass frowned on smoking joints with staff between seatings.

Campton Place in SF had live snails under Bradley Ogden...albeit 6 years ago.

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Often, the snails are raised on small patches of grass edged with ash (which burns them)and Smurfs, which contains them much like barbed wire and cowboys contains cattle, though on a smaller, slower scale.

This is the best reading I've done on this site in a long time!

You can tell I was enthused. Double posted compliment, baby. Also, thanks for reminding me of the Smurfs!

Gargamel ate Smurfs, too.

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Escargots ($14) was right at the price where you weren't sure if they were frozen or not. Although these were served in shells - a beautiful, dramatic presentation - unfortunately, they weren't the shells in which the snails were born; they were just empty shells, purchased separately, and used as a serving vessel. The snails were inserted along with parsley and butter, and honestly, I couldn't tell if they were frozen or not (frozen is not necessarily bad, and you can still have frozen, but wild-caught, escargots). Something tells me these weren't crawling around in the flower boxes earlier in the day.

No gastropod (snail, conch, whelk, abalone) is ever served directly in the shell that it comes from (with the exception of periwinkles that are so small).  If they did, you would not be pleased.  At all.  All the intestines and organs and hermaphroditic junk have to be removed from the business end of the creature.  The foot is the only edible part.  The snail is pulled out of the shell, cleaned, and then put back in.  It is more efficient to pull them all out at once, clean them all and return them to a shell, which is probably not the original, maybe even broken if they aren't old enough, but close enough.

It is illegal to import live snails (which qualify as plant pests) without the Plant Protection and Quarantine Division's rubber stamp since they pose a threat to crops.  They can not be released into the wild and may not be the edible variety anyway.  And also, let's not forget--let's not forget, dude, that importing, an amphibious gastropod for, um, you know, domestic consumption--within the country--that ain't legal either.  Those canned snails imported from France are likely gypsy imposters who were moping through the hill of Romania.

Wild snails (generally giant African land snails) have been known to host Angiostrongyliasis which can cause meningitis if they are not cooked which makes the handful of folks who even know that a little gun-shy when it comes to eating wild snails.

There was a snail farmer in the southwest up until 5 or 6 years ago that sold live snails but they packed up their dirt and retired.  Most live snails are raised in California and a NYTimes article profiled Mary Stewart last year, who sells them through a Seattle based distributor.  Somewhere along the way they are cooked.   It is quite clear from the article that the snails are raised on a "farm", but the distributor claims they are "wild", a greenwashing term that is carelessly thrown around nowadays like a Frisbee.

The amount of time, refrigeration space and work required to purge, cook and clean the critters is not something that every restaurant can manage and there are far worse-quality commodity land animals being served to consumers than snails with optional shells.

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No gastropod (snail, conch, whelk, abalone) is ever served directly in the shell that it comes from (with the exception of periwinkles that are so small).

...

The amount of time, refrigeration space and work required to purge, cook and clean the critters is not something that every restaurant can manage and there are far worse-quality commodity land animals being served to consumers than snails with optional shells.

This is an amazing discourse. Are you sure about whelks? I've had whelks literally by the dozens, and I was under the assumption that they were pulled from the sea (incidentally, this may be the single best thing I've ever eaten, so don't break my heart by telling me they weren't fresh - I mean, these were clean, but you still had to toothpick them out, and I can't imagine the work that would have to go into what you're describing).

Regarding this article, it is hilarious that the French are fighting over the terroir of snails. If we didn't have France, we'd have to invent it.

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Even whelks.

Especially the larger ones.  In smaller whelks the intestines and whatnot often get stuck in the shell and the foot detaches from it when you pick them.  In the bigger ones everything comes out.  The guts are pulled off and, ideally, the foot is split and the "mouth" is removed.  In either case the operculum (trap door) is removed, probably in the kitchen before they get to you.

(I'll be serving Chesapeake Rapa whelks at ETR)

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Even whelks.

Especially the larger ones.  In smaller whelks the intestines and whatnot often get stuck in the shell and the foot detaches from it when you pick them.  In the bigger ones everything comes out.  The guts are pulled off and, ideally, the foot is split and the "mouth" is removed.  In either case the operculum (trap door) is removed, probably before they get to you.

(I'll be serving Chesapeake Rapa whelks at ETR)

While I agree that escargot may only be available from distributors as pre-cleaned then frozen or canned, I disagree that this is the case for all gastropods....for example, we acquired two different types of whelks in the past month that were flash frozen but not cleaned and still in their shell -- operculum and innards in tact -- and we prepare them by braising them in a seasoned liquid and serve them WHOLE, including the inner systems (with a toothpick to be cork screwed out of the shell).

Same could be said for sazae or larger snails we have access to as well as abalone and sea slugs (namako).

I also recently had snails in coconut milk at Rice Paper that were still in shell.  Their kitchen conveniently lopped the very top of the shell off so you could suck out the meat from the top (vs twisting it out from the foot).  I doubt these arrived pre-cleaned, separated, and all inner systems and foot restuffed at the restaurant.

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While I agree that escargot may only be available from distributors as pre-cleaned then frozen or canned, I disagree that this is the case for all gastropods....for example, we acquired two different types of whelks in the past month that were flash frozen but not cleaned and still in their shell -- operculum and innards in tact -- and we prepare them by braising them in a seasoned liquid and serve them WHOLE, including the inner systems (with a toothpick to be cork screwed out of the shell).

Same could be said for sazae or larger snails we have access to as well as abalone and sea slugs (namako).

I also recently had snails in coconut milk at Rice Paper that were still in shell.  Their kitchen conveniently lopped the very top of the shell off so you could suck out the meat from the top (vs twisting it out from the foot).  I doubt these arrived pre-cleaned, separated, and all inner systems and foot restuffed at the restaurant.

Domestic whelks and abalone are available live and in their shell; I haven't said otherwise. It is illegal in the US to contain conch in their shells (listed in appendix II of CITES); most of the conch meat comes from the Caribbean.  I prefer to be able to purge whelks (much like razor clams) to remove the grit, sand or whatever its last meal was, just like de-veining shrimp.  That is not possible with frozen whelks and they may not have been purged.  I haven't had to purge abalone but always discard the guts.  Gastropod innards (or those from most any other sea creature) is not a flavor or texture that I crave.

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Based on the path of this conversation, I should add that the whelks I refer to above were in Arcachon, France (a sea town renowned for its oysters, whelks, periwinkles, etc). The dish described at Rice Paper, í”́c Len XaÌ€o DÆ°Ì€a (#2 on their Appetizers menu), is definitely whole snails - they're served bathing (many of them fully submerged) in a bowl of sweet, creamy, coconut milk-based broth, and is worth ordering - it won't win any culinary prizes, but is a legitimate example of whole snails. I believe what we have being discussed is European vs. Asian styles of preparing these gastropods.

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