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Garden snails as escargots.

Garden snails as escargots

Slithering through your garden, the common brown snail (Helix aspersa) is usually viewed with contempt. If you've thrown your hands up in despair of ridding your yard of these nibbling pests, it's time to take a stand. Arm yourself with a pot and the following savory recipes.

For you have genuine escargot on the hoof. In France, this same snail is known as petit-gris.

Stalking the snail

Snails are strictly nocturnal. By day they hide in cool, moist places. At night they feed on your tender, succulent plants. You'll find them most easily in the gray light of morning.

For easiest collecting, create an area snails will like. Prop a wide board about 2 inches above the ground in a grassy area. Spray the board with water to keep it damp. Lightly water the lawn in the evening, after the sun has set. Snails will attach to the underside of the board to rest during the day--ready for you to pluck them away.

Snails smaller than 1 inch aren't worth the trouble to gather, clean, and cook.

Once you have your prey, proceed as follows --each step is important. You can have escargots on the table in about four days, or keep them for several weeks.

Or take the easy way out. Buy canned snails, and skip to the recipes.

A word about pesticides

Gather snails from areas you know have not been treated with pesticides. Even so, snails travel, so it is essential to purge them (directions follow) to ensure your safety. If snails have ingested any toxic substances, they will die during the purging process; if they survive, any residue they contain is considered insignificant.

Purging and fattening

To purge snails, first rinse them in a colander to clean off debris and soil, then put them in a large, clean container such as a bucket or dish pan. A gallon container is adequate for 2 dozen snails; the plastic dish tub (see page 244) will hold about 5 dozen. In the container, put a shallow dish with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of water.

Cover the container securely with nylon netting (such as tuller or curtain fabric), several layers of cheesecloth, or a lid with plenty of tiny air holes. If there are any openings, the snails are apt to work their way out.

Keep the container out of direct sunlight and in a cool part of the room. At least every other day, rinse snails, change water, and clean the container; otherwise unpleasant odors will develop.

Check daily and discard any dead snails. Scratch the snail's foot to check; if it doesn't twitch, the snail is dead.

The snails' systems will be clear in about four days, but you can house them longer and fatten them as follows.

Clean the container, then put about 3 tablespoons cornmeal for each dozen snails. Return water dish and snails, and cover. Replace cornmeal each time you clean; increase or decrease the amount as necessary. Feed up to 2 weeks, then give water only for 2 days.

Shelled Snails

Bring 1 1/2 quarts water to boiling in a 3- to 4-quart pan over high heat. Rinse up to 4 cups purged snails (preceding) under cool running water to remove debris. Immediately pour snails into the boiling water; boil, uncovered, 2 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully, since a lot of foam develops.

Drain snails and rinse with cold water. With a slender wooden pick, pierce each snail and pull from shell. Cut off and discard gall (the coiled section that comes out of the shell last).

In a bowl, mix 1 1/2 quarts cool water and 1/3 cup vinegar. Add snails and gently stir until water is cloudy, 2 to 3 minutes; drain and rinse snails. Repeat 2 or 3 times more, or until liquid remains clear.

Cooked Snails

In a 3- to 4-quart pan, mix freshly shelled or canned snails (up to 2 cups, about 12 oz., preceding); 3 cups regular-strength beef broth; 1 small onion, sliced; 1 bay leaf; and 1/2 teaspoon dry thyme leaves.

Bring mixture to boiling, uncovered, over high heat; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until snails are very tender when pierced, about 30 minutes if canned, 1 hour if fresh. Drain snails and use in one of the following recipes. If cooked ahead, cool, cover, and chill up to 2 days; or freeze up to 3 months.

Snails with Brussels Sprouts

3 tablespoons olive oil or salad oil

4 medium-size heads garlic

2 or 3 large Brussels sprouts

6 slices firm white bread (3 3/4- by 4 1/4-in. slices, 1/4 inch thick)

1 cup regular-strength chicken broth

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped, or 1/4 teaspoon dry thyme leaves

1 1/2 cups (9 oz.) cooked snails (preceding)

Pour oil into an 8- to 9-inch-square pan. Cut garlic in half crosswise, handling gently to hold cloves in head.

Set garlic, cut side down, in pan. Bake in a 350| oven until garlic is richly browned on bottom (take care not to scorch), about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, carefully remove large outer leaves from each sprout. Select 24 of the largest, most perfect leaves; reserve remaining sprouts for other uses. In a 3- to 4-quart pan, bring about 3 inches of water to boiling on high heat. Drop leaves into boiling water and immediately lift out with a slotted spoon; immerse in ice water, then drain on paper towels.

If made ahead, garlic and leaves can sit at room temperature up to 4 hours.

Trim crusts from bread; cut slices in half diagonally. Lay bread triangles in a single layer in a 10- by 12-inch baking pan. Bake in a 350| oven until bread is toasted on top, about 3 minutes; turn pieces and continue baking until toasted on other side, about 2 minutes longer.

While bread toasts, boil broth, cream, and thyme leaves in a 2- to 3-quart pan, uncovered, on high heat, until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 12 minutes. Add snails and slowly simmer until snails are hot, about 3 minutes.

Cluster 6 sprout leaves, cup up, on 1 side of each of 4 hot plates; quickly nestle an equal number of snails in each leaf. Spoon sauce around or over the snails. On each plate, place 2 garlic halves and 3 toast triangles. Spread baked garlic on toast to eat with the snails and sauce. Makes 4 first-course servings.

Per serving: 362 cal.; 18 g protein; 25 g carbo.; 22 g fat; 74 mg chol.; 412 mg sodium.

Crisp-baked Snails in Herb Butter

1 or 2 large heads Belgian endive (about 6 oz. each), leaves separated and rinsed

About 1/3 cup soft unripened goat cheese or herb-flavor soft cheese spread

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups (9 oz.) cooked snails (preceding)

1/4 to 1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs Garlic herb butter (recipe follows) Parsley sprigs

Select 16 or 20 perfect large endive leaves. Mount cheese equally in the stem end of each leaf; set aside.

In a small bowl, beat egg to blend. Add the cooked snails and mix with egg. Lift out snails, 1 at a time, and coat with bread crumbs. Place snails about 1 inch apart in a buttered 10- by 15-inch baking pan. Bake in a 400| oven, turning once with spatula, until crisp to touch and lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Melt herb butter (in pan over low heat or in nonmetal container in microwave oven); keep warm.

Arrange an equal number of endive leaves on 4 dinner plates; cluster an equal number of the snails on each plate. Drizzle snails with butter and garnish with parsley. Makes 4 first-course servings.

Per serving: 278 cal.; 19 g protein; 8 g carbo.; 19 g fat; 140 mg chol.; 423 mg sodium.

Garlic herb butter. In a bowl, stir until blended 1/4 cup (1/8 lb.) butter or margarine, at room temperature; 1 large clove garlic, pressed or minced; 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; and 1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper. Makes 1/4 cup.

Snails in Pastry Shells

1 sheet (1/2 of a 17 1/4-oz. packagee frozen puff pastry, thawed

About 1 cup (2 packages, each 4 oz.) garlic- and herb-flavor soft cheese spread

2 1/4 cups (13 1/2 oz.) cooked snails (preceding)

1 large egg

On a lightly floured board, roll pastry into an 18-inch square. Cut into 36 pieces, each 3 inches square. Spoon a rounded teaspoon of cheese onto the center of each pastry and press an equal amount of snails into each mound of cheese. Beat egg to blend, then brush on pastry rims. On each pastry, bring edges together and press firmly to seal. Set pastries, sealed side down, in a 10- by 15-inch pan. (If made ahead, cover and chill up to next day.)

Brush pastries with egg. Bake in a 400| oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. With a spatula, transfer pastries to a platter. Makes 12 appetizer servings.

Per serving: 195 cal.; 9 g protein; 9 g carbo.; 13 g fat; 64 mg chol.; 186 mg sodium.

Photo: Brussels sprout leaves cradle snails; eat with roasted garlic (right). Oven-fried snails in garlic butter (below) pair with endive, goat cheese

Photo: Petit-gris on the march: the garden pest of choice for brave gourmets

Photo: Favorite hiding places are the undersides of moist boards, leaves, and such; you can set up a lure like this. Best hunting is in A.M.

Photo: Purge snails for at least four days--keep in a securely covered, ventilated container; provide water. Rinse at least every other day

Photo: Pull boiled snail from shell, using a small wooden pick or skewer

Photo: Cut away the coiled section that was deep inside the shell. Continue cooking the snails until tender
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Title Annotation:recipes
Date:May 1, 1988
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