Specialty Equipment: PacoJet
Specialty Ingredients: fresh snails
Days: 1 (or 20)
Dish as in The Fat Duck:
The Fat Duck? Heston Blumenthal? Bray near London? Second best restaurant in the world according to S.Pellegrino (at least not that long ago)? The fish course with an iPod? Snail Porridge? Oooohhhhh. Why didn’t you name that for a start? That guy.
If there is one dish from the Fat Duck with an enormous resonance in the consciousness of people it is this snail dish. In essence it is just snails with garlic and parsley butter, but the name evokes all kinds of controversy. The famous porridge is just the glue that thickens the butter and keeps it in place. In essence there is no difference to the snails you can eat in every French bistro. It is a prime example of our multi-sensory relationship to food, with sounds, color, smell and even words contributing to our perception of food. Snail porridge, Heston must be laughing his ass off.
When planning to make this dish I resisted the urge to use tinned ones and started looking for a supplier of fresh snails. Contrary to my expectations I found a few and ordered a kilo of snails, which came down to about 30 snails. I could only find the Helix Aspersa Gros Gris breed. The Helix Pomatia, from what I’ve read the shizzle under the snizzles, was nowhere to be found.
Before preparing snails you have to purge them to clean their insides. This is often done by the supplier of the snails, saving you a couple of days of snail duty. It comes down to, there are many methods, washing them on a daily basis and depriving them of food.
I first blanched the snails, cooled them and removed them from their shells. A barbeque stick works wonders for this last job and you work your way through tons of snails in no time. After washing them in water they go in a braising liquid, with tons of rosemary and thyme, and in an oven of 120˚C for 3-4 hours. After a couple of hours they feel very soft, not at all tough.
The next step was quite the &*^!. ‘Trim away their intestines and white sac.’ Oke, how? I surgically dissected a couple of snails, but a white looking sac was nowhere to be found and all along the snails were pockets of snail matter that resembled intestines. I delved into my cookbooks, and, found that tons of chefs stay far away from snails, others call for cleaned and shelled snails (even multiple Michelin starred chefs), some never ask to cut away any part and others give the same basic description as The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Internet was of the same help with the reoccurring comment: ‘You can clean them yourself, it takes a long time and why in the hell would you do it yourself!’
So just to be safe I removed the curling bottom part of the snails and pieces of exposed snail that looked like organs or what not. If anyone has experience cleaning snails, do let me know the proper way.
Next up was the parsley butter, made from parsley, garlic, lemon juice, mustard, almonds, ceps, shallots and duck ham. It is made predominately in a PacoJet. In absence of the machine I made a beurre monté in my thermomix and blended the butter (fluid) with parsley for a few minutes. I ended up with some spots of parsley, but most of it was completely integrated in the butter. For the ceps I used good quality dried ceps, cause I could buy ceps in 1kg packages, which was way more than I needed. The last deviation was the duck ham, which I bought. I’ve tried to make it in the past, along with other types of charcuterie, but a cold, damp and dark room is essential for a successful outcome. If not you end up, like Michael Ruhlman, one of the authors of Charcuterie, with a dried out edge.
Shaving the fennel for the garnish. I used a mandolin.
The vinaigrette for the fennel.
The Jabugo ham, the area of Pata Negra ham, sort of like the quality indication Parma of Parma ham, ready to be cut into a chiffonade.
I haven’t eaten porridge for, I think, 20 years. Combined with snails may even be in a more distant past. The oats have to be sieved to remove the small broken down ones, which make the porridge starchy. I had leftover chicken bouillon from another dish.
Snails taking a quick tour through a pan and the porridge combined with bouillon and (a lot) of parsley butter. The porridge is topped with the Jabugo ham, the snails and the dressed fennel.
I think making the dish yourself helps with the fear factor, because I delved into the plate without any hesitation. It is becoming predictable. It was very tasty. The porridge was bursting with flavor, such a smart way to keep the butter together and give a slight crunch. The snails were a bit underwhelming, missing some seasoning. For some reason they need a lot of seasoning, or else you don’t do them justice. The fennel offered some freshness and crunch, helped by the vinaigrette, with an 1 to 2 ratio of vinegar to oil. So, after making and eating the snail porridge you have to wonder what all the fuzz is about. It is very tasty, for me not all a gimmick, but stripped down it is just butter and snails. If anyone ever doubted the power of words, this course would set them straight.