Snails are known for their characteristic slimy secretion which is off putting for some. This slime is actually believed to be rich in anti-oxidants and used in facial treatments and creams!
For a good tasting dish, the snail slime must be removed and this is a process which requires patience and quite a bit of effort.
Traditionally, snail slime is removed in three steps:
- Salt Wash: Rub the shelled snails with a considerable amount of salt (about 1-2 table spoons per snail). The salt aids the release of the slime from the snail's flesh. Rinse snails with a lot of fresh clean water.
- Alum Wash: Alum is a stringent crystal mineral rock which is excellent for reducing (eliminating) snail slime. After the salt wash, rub each snail with a lump of alum. Ensure you rub all over the snail including its folds and crevices. You will see an immediate reaction on the slime which will appear to coagulate. Rinse thoroughly, again with fresh clean water.
- Lemon/lime Wash: Finally rub each snail with slices of lime or lemon. Alternatively pour some lemon/lime juice on the snails. Ensure the snails are all covered with the juice to end the effects of the alum and remove other traces of slime. Give the snails a final rinse in fresh clean water. Trim off any remaining traces of guts etc then cut in halves (or leave as whole) if preferred. Submerge the snail pieces in fresh clean water in a bowl until ready to cook/use.
How to source snails and check for freshness:
Snails are sold in their shells and this is the only way you can determine their freshness. Gently press down on the snail flesh while in its shell and listen out for a hissing sound or watch for its retraction movement. If either or both do not happen, its quite possible that the snail is dead and MUST not be eaten.
You can also get frozen raw or cooked snails, but frozen snails tend to have a rubbery / tough texture. As much as possible opt always for the fresh/live ones.
Shelling and gutting snails must be done with care as the shells are quite sharp and may cut the skin when cracked. In large African markets, snails are easily pulled out of the shells with a cork-screw like device so get the seller to shell and gut them for you.
Before cooking, follow the 3 steps described above for prepping and cleaning them.
To make today's recipe, please see below:
- 4 giant African snails, shelled and cleaned
- 1 medium onion, dice
- 1 scotch bonnet, remove seeds and finely chop (optional)
- 2 tomatoes, dice
- ¼ small green sweet pepper, dice
- ½ small red sweet pepper, dice
- 1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme
- Some vegetable oil
- Salt to taste (also use any seasoning salt of choice)
- Follow the three steps for prepping detailed above.
- Place snails in a small pan, add some water, a pinch of salt and steam for about 5-10 minutes. Prick the snails with a snail to check for softness. If you are able to easily prick them with a fork, then they are cooked and ready. Drain and set aside.
- Heat oil in another pan, add onion, thyme, tomatoes, green & red pepper and scotch bonnet (if using). Stir. Then add salt or seasoning salt. Also add a sprinkling of water and leave to simmer for 5 minutes
- Add the snails, stir and simmer for a further 5 minutes.