Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear: what an adventure! WHAT possessed me to want to cook snails? I tell you, these farmers markets … they’re ‘dangerous’! With their colourful and scented wares, their clever and friendly banter, their slow-living pace, they entrance and entreat and bewitch you into wanting to try all kinds of recipes that are best left to the experts.
So there I was, some time in October, enjoying a leisurely wander around the Ariccia weekend Farmers Market, when I came to the stall selling snails. A sensible person would have gazed at the stall for a few seconds and moved on …
Snails are notoriously time-consuming to clean … they need to spend something like 24 hours in water which has to be changed at least 4 or 5 times. They are still alive during this cleansing process. Here at the stall, the sales pitch is brilliant: these beauties have already been cleaned! All you need to do is cook them! And we EVEN provide a few recipes! Oh, and did I tell you that snails are protein-rich and nutritious too, containing many essential amino acids and other goodies such as calcium, phosphorous, iron and copper! What is a poor girl to do? Of course I gave in and bought some.
“You shall rue the day” is an expression in old films that meant very little to me until the time came for me to deal with snails.
It didn’t start off too badly … The very first thing to do was to put the snails in a large tub of water and leave them there for five minutes. At this point, because they are still alive, the snails will start peeking out of their shell. As they start sliding out of their shell, they need to be transferred to another container, with a lid on top to stop them from escaping. Any snail that shows no sign of life is to be thrown away.
And here, instead, are the snails that were put into my double-boiler pasta pot for safe-keeping, very much alive and wanting to move about.
You see how clingy they are! and why it’s a jolly good idea to keep them under a lid!
Now, then. The next bit consisted in giving them one last clean, very much as one would with venus clams or vongole, under cold water. To my credit, I am such a genius when it comes to diminishing work, I came up with the idea of using the colander part of my pasta pot because a) it would make it easier to drain the snails of the water and b) it would stop them trying to escape.
I used a wooden spoon to swirl them around and encourage the removal of ‘bits’ we’d rather not ingest.
Upsy-daisy … see how easy the pasta-pot colander makes this job!
The water is murky and slimy … and so of course I got rid of it and poured more cold water into the tub, to give the snails another bath.
I did this until the water was completely clean … about 5 times, if I remember correctly.
I put a lid on them and sighed. I took in the portentous task that now lay before me and pondered on the meaning of the verb ‘rue’. I was losing my nerve, I kid you not.
Aaaagh! Heeeelp! I looked to my husband for succour … he’s usually very good at encouraging me but even he did a double-take at the prospect of serial snail-killing and came up with the excellent idea of a glass of wine, to fortify my wavering resolve. After that, I was left on my own.
There, dear Reader, you have before you 1 kg of live snails being hurtled into a pot of warm water. I was told the water had to be a pleasant temperature in order to induce the snails to come out of their shell. This makes it easier later on to eat them. There is less tugging to be done.
Now is the time to add an onion, a carrot, a celery stick and some parsley.
I also added 1 bay leaf (which you can’t see) and put the lid back on again and simmered the snails for another 30 minutes.
At the end of 30 minutes and steaming. I let the cooking water cool a bit and then drained the snails and set them aside.
This is a very typical and plain way of cooking the snails, alla romana – the Roman way. Basically, the snails get to be tarted up in a tomato sauce which includes garlic and anchovy.
And this was my sauce ‘mistake’. I should have sautéed the garlic FIRST and THEN added the anchovy. Instead, I cooked them both together … and this detracted from the quality of the sauce at the final stage. Also, I added 1 anchovy too many … the anchovy is a taste enhancener and should ‘melt’ into the sauce and not be directly perceptible, whereas the amount I put in resulted in an excessive textural after-taste.
The tomatoes …
Cooking the sauce for about 15 minutes …
Lots of chopped parsley and some chilli for those who like it …
A little extra extra virgin olive oil …
Mix everything very well and simmer for about 5 minutes, to get the snails hot again. And serve.
And do I have a photo of the snails served? No.
Were they good? Mmmm. They were ‘all right’ — but nothing to write home about. And especially not considering the amount of work and angst involved. The sauce, which in theory was the easiest part, is what let the dish down — and that was my fault, as explained above.
Ah well … another example of a ‘beautiful Catastrophe’ in the kitchen! (see my post on kitchen catastrophes dated 17th Februaty 2011 and called “What to seek in Zorba the Greek).
Who knows … I might muster a little courage some time in the near future and have another ‘go’ at snails! And when I do so, I shall get buy them from Loredana.