You can, and I have. Other than size, they’re not much different than the escargot you’d find in a French restaurant.
Years ago, I ran a gardening business in the seaside town of Santa Cruz, California. The cool, foggy coastal environment was an ideal snail habitat. It was not uncommon to plant, say, a rosebush and come back the next morning to find dozens of snails devouring every leaf. One day, my friend Tim shared a surprising fact: The common brown garden snail is actually an invasive species brought over by French chefs.
This may be more urban myth than fact, but a little Googling revealed that these garden enemies are indeed edible. It took us about five minutes to gather enough for a meal, and I soon enjoyed my first ever escargot, organically grown and garden fresh.
America’s first artisanal snail farm was recently established on Long Island, but most French chefs on this side of the pond still resort to importing their snails. Chefs favor larger, domesticated snails for escargot, but the half-dollar-size specimens found in any backyard or vacant lot taste just as good. Here’s what you need to know.
While certain marine snails are among the most toxic creatures on the planet, terrestrial snails are generally safe to eat. Make sure to harvest them from vegetation that has not been treated with herbicides or pesticides. Most importantly, cook them — some snails carry a dangerous parasite called rat lungworm, but as long as you heat them to at least 165°F for several minutes, you’ll be safe. A surprising number of children have ended up in the hospital after being dared to eat raw snails.
Fattening Them Up
Escargot tastes much better if the snails feed on human food for three or four days before consuming them. Collect them in a clean plastic bucket fitted with a screen lid for ventilation. Keep them in a cool, shady location. Add some raw vegetables or uncooked grains and let them graze. Sprinkle a few drops of water into the enclosure each day to keep them moist. Rinse the snails thoroughly in clean running water and hang them in a mesh bag (out of the sun) for 24 to 48 hours without food — this will allow their digestive systems to empty out. Remove any dead snails before cooking.
In the Kitchen
Add the snails to a pot of boiling water and cook them for several minutes to loosen the flesh from the shells. Rinse them in cool water and prick out the meat with the tip of a knife. To remove the last of the slime, rinse the snails in a bowl of vinegar water (1/2 cup of vinegar per gallon of water). Repeat this process several times with fresh water and vinegar until the mucus is gone. They are now ready to become escargot — the classic recipe is to simply sauté them in garlic, butter and a dash of white wine.