Saturday, September 6, 2014

Les Cagouilles

At the junction of the D2 and the D730, you can drive in circles while you decide whether to go towards Saint-Fort-sur-Gironde or Brie-sous-Mortagne or Saint-Genis-de-Saintonge (take the second right and thread your way through the fields and vineyards, and you'll get to La Péroutière, where I was housesitting) or to Lorignac, the closest of the four, and the one to whom this roundabout belongs, with its installation titled "Binv’nut ché lés cagouillards" by Jean-Luc Plé. Not all roundabouts have sculptures, but many of the ones near towns do have some sort of art installation, or at least a nice bed of flowers. There is a giant halved kiwi near Bayonne and a fisherman's hut on stilts outside of Mirambeau; the debate continues over whether these are good things or not, and the giant kiwi made it on the list of "the ugliest roundabouts in France" earlier this year (here's a sample of some of the least popular). The snails appear on some peoples' least-popular lists, but I rather like them. There's a little parking space cut into the side of the roundabout where you can stop to take a picture of the stereotypical female snail admiring herself in a mirror, or the male snail perched on an also stereotypically phallic construction.

The snails that are raised for food in this region are the Petit-Gris variety (Helix aspersa aspersa), which are smaller than the Gros-Gris (Helix aspersa maxima), an Algerian import and the snail most producers raise in France. The even larger Helix pomatia is the famous escargot de Bourgogne which can't be easily cultivated, and since the French ate most of the native population, they're primarily imported from Eastern Europe now, where they are still found frisking slowly through the grassy fields. This is the snail that people eat all over France, stuffed with butter and parsley and garlic. Most people buy them frozen, one or two dozen packed into ready-to-heat foil trays; they're available and eaten year round, and particularly popular at Christmas.

In the Charente-Maritime the snails are called cagouilles. The title of the art installation at the roundabout outside of Lorignac is titled "Welcome to the land of the snail-people," more or less; les Cagouillards is the name given to the natives of the Charente region. There used to be an annual fête at Saint-Sauveur d’Aunis on the first weekend of September, sponsored by the Brotherhood of the Snail but it seems the last one was in 2006. I didn't realize that there were snail-raisers in and around Lorignac until the last few days I was housesitting, otherwise I would have tried to visit one of the snail farms. Next time. I did get a chance to taste the snails, though, when I went to Talmont-sur-Gironde. I had them for lunch, a bowl of petit-gris à la charentaise, and they were delicious.

Après nettoyage des cagouilles - elles doivent être encore vivantes - les jeter dans un faitout dont le fond est tapissé d'huile chaude. Les faire sauter puis ajouter alors des morceaux de jambon et de la farce (saucisse et veau, c'est moins gras) - 150 grammes de chaque pour 100 cagouilles - des oignons, de l'ail, du vin blanc, du sel, du poivre, des épices et si l'on veut, quelques tomates (pas obligatoire, cela peut générer un petit goût acide). Laisser cuire doucement jusqu'à ce que les cagouilles soient cuites.

After cleaning the snails - they should still be alive - toss them in a stockpot heated with a little oil on the bottom. Shake the pot to coat the snails and then add pieces of ham and some ground meat (sausage meat and veal is less fatty) - 150 grams of each for every 100 snails - some onions, garlic, white wine, salt, pepper, spices, and if you want, a few tomatoes (not required, but it can add a nice acidity). Let simmer just until the snails are cooked.
  -  recipe from the Brotherhood's website

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