One of my life rules is that I need to have adventures. These can range from a Space-A trip to Guam and hiking Yellowstone to a sunset at Sunset Cliffs and walking a canyon near my house. Adventures definitely include trying new things to eat. And if I get to be the one to cook it, even better.
This weekend when picking up my fish CSA (or fishscription as they call it), I saw two algae-covered conical shells sitting in the ice with something like a mottled phallus with an odd piercing peeping out. They were turban snails, and for five dollars, I could take one home.
My fish monger (I love that I can say that) told me to split the shell with a hammer and then remove the meat, cutting off any dark flesh before pounding the crap out of it to tenderize the foot. Then pan fry in olive oil with salt and pepper. Done!
(he may have even kissed the tips of his fingers when he said that)
But I didn’t want to hurt the shell. It was so pretty and I felt like the shell alone was worth the $4.25 (with discount). So I googled “turban snail” to find out how to alternatively cook these without damaging the shell. According to the Inter-webs, there is no good way to make turban snail taste good. What people raved about was that they are plentiful, not regulated by fishing laws, and a good source of protein. Perfect for the zombie apocalypse if the zombies aren’t underwater.
There were no gourmet recipes for turban snail. This is the workingman’s mollusc. As a gastropod, the turban snail is literally no more than a stomach (slimy and gross) and a foot (the meat part). If you take the length of each part of that word, gastro vs pod, you’ll notice that a snail is a lot more stomach than foot. Something I didn’t bother to look up until later.
Best way, it seems to get a snail out of an intact shell is to boil it for a few minutes, after which according to the images on the web, the snail just pulls out in a delightful curlycue. Since, in my experience, boiling octopus or squid too long makes them tough and chewy and it seemed that snail is similar, I cut the boiling time advised on various sites in half to 2.5minutes. This, I figured, was long enough to kill the snail but not long enough to cook the meat so I could still beat the crap out of it later in the tenderizing step.
I was right. But because the snail wasn’t cooked, the guts didn’t detach from the shell wall in that expected curlycue . . . or at least not easily.
I pulled and pulled on that sucker, finally breaking out my dissection kit, until in a cringe-worth slither a HUGE portion of gut splashed out into the sink.
I may or may not have screamed a little.
Then I pulled myself together. Beat the measly bits of meat with a hammer. Grilled them on a skewer with olive oil and salt and pepper so that I could taste the flavor of the meat.
Snail meat has no flavor. It is the most disappointingly bland protein you could ever put in your mouth. In fact, it is so bland that it is almost disgusting. No wonder so many of the recipes called for sauces or marinades or mincing the meat into a fritter.
All of a snail’s allure and excitement is in getting it out of the shell. Definitely a $5 experience if not a $5 meal.
Snail meat is not my new cow tongue though it looks a lot like it in certain lights.