A while back I wrote a post about going after less popular species of fish and using them in dishes to see if I could turn them into something tasty and delicious. Since writing that post I haven't managed to catch a single fish. I spent a day on the Minnesota river and got nothing but did lose several hooks to the bottom. I also spent a couple of days at nearby lakes and didn't get a single thing. I did see a large carp right off shore but was unable to get it to bite. I considered buying a bow fishing set up and giving that a go, but haven't had the time or money. I put out the word to a few friends to not throw back any rough fish and to call me if they get any so I can at least try cooking them.
While at one of the Lakes I noticed that the shore line was spotted with snails. I have seen snails in other waterways as well and have always wondered if they were edible. I came home and did some quick research on snails and found out that in Minnesota we have an invasive species of snail known as the Chinese Mystery Snail. They originate form China and were brought here by Chinese immigrants as food, and very quickly spread across the country from San Fransisco to Maine. They are known as mystery snails because of the way they reproduce. Typically there will be one snail, then the next day, there will be hundreds of small black snails that are all genetically identical to the original. I am sure there is more to it than that, but that is what I read.
In my reading I found that they are edible and in certain parts of the world, very much a delicacy. There were some suggestions about what to do with them when you catch them. Snails apparently will absorb all the toxins from their surrounding which can make them poisonous. In order to safely eat them it is recommended that you catch them and keep them alive for 4-7 days in fresh clean water that is changed everyday. They also recommend feeding them corn meal because it helps flush their systems and fattens them up.
For my first batch I thought I would just go grab about 25 of them and give the process a shot. I grabbed up a bunch of them and kept them in a 5 gallon pail in the garage for 4 days, changing the water and feeding them corn meal. This process was very easy and took less than 5 minutes a day. Over the days you could see all the crap that came out of the snails and by the last day there was nothing in the bucket, except for dozens of small black snails that just appeared from out of no where. There weren't hundreds but there was a lot of them, kind of cool and kind of weird all at the same time.
After letting them cleanse themselves out I gave them a quick scrub with a brush and boiled them in salted water for 20 minutes. After boiling I drained them and let them cool. They pulled out of the shells very easily and you could see the foot part of the snail, which is the edible part. After removing the foot from each snail I was ready to use them in a dish.
There are many ways you can cook snails, so I chose a simple pasta dish with butter, garlic, tarragon, thyme and parsley. I topped it of with a little Parmesan and had a very delicious pasta dish. The snails were good, I wouldn't say great, but they were good. They had a nice texture and tasted like fresh clams. The only downside I could see was that from 25 snails I only got about 1/2 cup of meat. The process of cleaning and cleansing the snails isn't conducive to small batches, so if you are going to try this I recommend going all out and doing like 200-300 all at once then freezing what ever you don't use right away for another use.
For my first attempt with snails I was very pleased with what I got and now that I know more about the process I will be doing more of them. I think the snails would hold up really well to a long braise or I might have to find out how they are prepared in China, either way I am excited to try them again.