Fifteen minutes to closing time. Last call at the kitchen. Then as we were about to sum up what seemed to be a great day, a customer returned a plateful of snails. “Waiter! My snails are blah- blah- blah…” WTF! I will not write here the details of that incident, rather, I’d choose to write about the snails in the wild wilderness.
(After thirty- two minutes pause).
I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about preparing great snails. I am quite familiar about that snail with parsley and garlic butter and snail- stuffed tomatoes… But to get way too friendly with the snails and knock at their stubborn doors to please purge as much dirt as they can, that I am not genius at.
Perhaps these salivating little creatures are playing their joke (read: revenge) on me. For when we were kids, there were plenty of snails in our backyard. Succulent, fleshy, phlegmatic animals as large as my child’s fists that grew in the rice fields. When the field water was starting to subside, I would start picking them one by one. Their tongue- like little bodies were out of their shell- the antennae (that held their eyes!), moving about, or sometimes feeding, and I, the giant bully predator would disturb that small, peaceful existence. I would touch those little antennae and the poor snail would pull back into its shell, and seeing this reaction, a menacing grin would cross my face. I would place my forefinger into that opening to keep the slug from shutting up, but it pulled back anyway, sticky saliva and all. And they did shut themselves up- all coiled into that hard shell. I would knock at the shell, but the snail wouldn’t pay attention anyway. Then they’d lay eggs in the muddy walls of the rice paddies, and with a stick, the young Food Huntress would poke on these snail eggs and I was guilty of my first massacre.
Now years later- as if my destiny with snails isn’t fulfilled yet, we meet again! And in the kitchen at that! How could these helpless little mollusks pose a danger to my career?
In our kitchen we use live snails, not canned. And to prepare live snails, here’s a tip from the Balthazar Cookbook:
“In a shallow baking dish or pan, soak the snails in lukewarm water for 10 minutes. Discard any snails that haven’t begun to emerge from their shells. Moisten the rim of a large bowl and then press the rim into a plate to coat. Place the snails in the bowl and cover with water and 1 teaspoon of salt. The snails will emerge from their shells. Proceed with cooking the snails in Court Bouillon as directed by the recipe.”
Warning: Depending on the source, the taste of snails vary. If you are not prepared to experience the natural essence of snails (they feed on dead things, carry sands, crawl on mud, etc.) and if you do have a pre- programmed expectation of taste, then know that even the best restaurant can’t satisfy you. Keep an open mind.