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Snails on the menu in West Dorset
The 'snail breakfast' at the Bridge House Hotel, Beaminster
The delicacy aims to add to the "French flavour" of the restaurant's menu

Snails are going on the menu for the first time in West Dorset, at the Bridge House Hotel in Beaminster.

The delicacy will celebrate the restaurant owner's recent membership to Slow Food UK, a non-profit, member supported organisation working to ensure "good, clean and fair produce".

The 'snail breakfast' is the idea of Head Chef Stephen Pielesz.

As well as snails it includes mushroom, bacon, fried bread, tomato and black pudding.

"Snail twist"

Stephen said: "We've thrown a snail twist into a great British, traditional dish.

"We cook the snails slowly in a court bouillon [a stock used for poaching] for about an hour first, then they are lightly sautéed in garlic and parsley butter, before we add them to the dish.

Mark Donovan, owner of the the hotel, said: "Essentially we are a brasserie so we have always had a French flavour to the menu.

"We have even tried frogs legs recently and they have gone down really well."

A common garden snail
The snails are bred in humid conditions and are a similar size to a garden snail

Locally bred

The snails used at the restaurant are supplied from Dorset Escargot in Wimborne, one of only two commercial snail producers in the UK.

Dave Walker, the firm's Communications Manager, said: "It's a surprisingly technical, labour intensive and expensive business to set up.

"We imported our first lot of breeders from Serbia and it took two years of experimentation to get the product right, whereby we can now supply four to five thousand snails every single week of the year."

Appealing

Dave explains that in order to appeal to an English market, the snails, which are bred indoors on an old chicken farm, have to be a particular size and have a certain appearance.

He said: "We sell the snails when they are 14 weeks old - by this stage they are 12g/14g - just imagine the biggest garden snail you can find.

"We dry them out in onion sacks and then they go into a big fridge to bring their temperature right down, so they go into hibernation before they are blanched.

"It's much more humane than putting them straight into boiling water.

"They go right inside their shells and you end up with a round piece of meat, without their heads and antennae sticking out, which is far more appealing.

"Even I wouldn't eat them like that, but that's how the French do it."

Eating local

Head Chef Stephen Pielesz in action
Head Chef Stephen believes fresh snails are "hard to beat"

The Bridge House Hotel aims to use all local food producers, where possible.

Stephen said: "The bacon and the black pudding comes from just 100 yards away in Beaminster.

"Our fruit and veg comes from either Beaminster or Bridport and our fish comes from Bridport or West Bay."

Mark adds: "Slow Food is all about the ethical production of food, of the supply chain, food miles and paying workers to produce that food correctly.

"It's also about the food being clean, tasting good and food culture, such as local recipes.

"We've lost touch with where our food actually comes from.

"In the bad old days our food was filled with things we didn't know about, didn't necessarily like, or things that weren't good for us.

"With such a rich variety of producers in Dorset it would be criminal not to use them."

Wet and gritty?

Stephen insists once tried, snails are usually "loved", and enjoying it is all about removing the image of a snail from your mind first.

He said: "Most people think of them as a rather chewy and tasteless way to consume lots of garlic butter, but a good fresh snail is difficult to beat in terms of taste and texture.

"They're not wet and gritty like you might imagine - you've just got to go for it."

Dave adds: "The public are much more gastronomically aware now. Twenty years ago there is no way we could have made a living out of selling snails."

Baths and herbs

But the reason he believes his snails, which are sold to the likes of celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, taste so good is all down to baths and herbs.

He said: "The hatchlings don't eat for the first week of their lives.

"After that they are fed once a day - at first we introduce them to a very fine, high protein powder.

"Then we add more and more chalk to their diet, a lot of high protein soya and finally after four weeks we add dry herbs which they eat for about eight weeks.

"The herbs give them lots of flavour.

"As well as that they are washed daily to keep them clean and in perfect condition."




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