The common garden snail found in the United States, Helix aspersa, is a close relative of France’s commercially harvested Helix pomatia and is quite edible. They are delicious and highly nutritious.
A 3.5 ounce serving of snails provides about 90 calories. Most of the calories in a dish of snails come from protein. A serving of snails doesn’t have as much protein as beef or chicken but compares favorably with seafood. A 3.5 ounces serving adds 16.5 grams of protein to your diet, compared to 30 grams in a serving of white-meat chicken and 25 grams in a serving of dark-meat chicken. In addition, it is packed with vitamins.
Snails are nocturnal and can be collected at either dawn or dusk. Use a plastic container with a secure lid, or they will escape when you’re not looking. Punch some small air holes in the top. Because a snail can lift five times its own weight, you’ll need a tight-fitting lid to keep them escaping.
Snails should be purged prior to eating; this is done to help clean out anything that they may have eaten, including pesticides. During this period, you will keep them in the bucket. Don’t use a cardboard box, because snails can chew through cardboard. A plastic bucket or tube works well. Remember to keep them in the shade so that the heat of the sun does not kill them.
The purging takes about 10 days. You purge the snails by feeding them, greens or corn meal, for about 8 days. The last two days you give them only water. Some people pre-season them by feeding them herbs
At the end of the purging, rinse snails thoroughly in cool water and discard any that don’t peek out of their shells. Boil for three minutes, then drain and rinse the snails in cold water for several minutes more. Following this rinse, remove the snails from their shells. A two-pronged fork is ideal for the task, but any sharp object such as a small knife or a knitting needle may be used.
Once the snails have been removed from the shell, you can finish cooking them. If you overcook them, they will be tough. I would probably throw them in a stew, but they can be boiled or baked. Traditionally they were served with butter and garlic.
If you are living off your garden, snails can cause quite a bit of damage. Get your kids or grandchild to collect them and you have an extra source of protein