Hello everyone, and welcome back to a very buttery and savoury edition of Will It Sous Vide?, the column where I make things with my immersion circulator.
Photos by Claire Lower
This week's topic was not my original pick. Though I was initially excited to do a crayfish boil, a few things made me reconsider. For one, you need live crayfish for a crayfish boil, which means you have to kill them. This is usually accomplished by the whole boiling thing, but sous vide cooking requires a much lower temperature, and I just didn't feel comfortable sealing a bunch of live crayfish in a bag and leaving them to slowly die in a 63C bath. The other problem with doing a crayfish boil — or any type of boil, for that matter — is the vegetables. Both corn and potatoes cook at a much higher temperature than shellfish (83C) so cooking everything in one bag isn't really an option.
So that I skipped it, and instead chose to go with escargot, because I'm a big fan of eating snails, and because I wanted to see if sous vide cooking would result in a more tender, less rubbery escargot eating experience.
After calling four different stores, I finally found a place that carried canned escargot, complete with a set of shells for presentation. Having never made escargot at home before, I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of sous vide snails and some that had been cooked in-shell in the oven. Using this recipe as a template, I whipped up some herb butter containing:
- 1 stick of butter
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons of flat parsley, chopped
- 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
- Salt to taste
I mashed all of that goodness together with a fork, then scooped half of the buttery mixture into a vacuum bag. I then drained the snails and put half of them (six snails total) in the bag with the butter, making sure they were surrounded by it, and sealed the whole thing up.
I dropped the snail-packed bag in a 68C bath for an hour and, while those guys were hot-tubbing, prepared the oven batch.
Mini muffin tin for the win!
Since my main goal was to surround the snails with as much butter as possible, I first shoved a bit of the butter mixture down in the shell, shoved a snail down in there on top of the butter layer, and then topped it with more butter. I didn't have one of those fancy escargot plates, but I did have a mini muffin tin, and that worked pretty well. I popped the muffin tin in the fridge to let the butter firm up for a bit and then, when the sous vide batch had 15 minutes of cooking time left, popped it in a 177C oven until everything was all hot and bubbly (this took about 15 minutes).
It was then time to pull the bag o' snails out of the sous vide bath, so I took 'em out, opened 'em up, and shoved them into their new homes (which were, as it turns out, pretty similar to their old homes). There was a lot of melted butter in the bag, and I wasn't about to let that goodness go to waste, so onto the escargot it went.
I put the oven-cooked escargot in a bowl, toasted some bread, and got ready for a taste test. This taste test of course raises the question: Will snails sous vide?
The answer? Yes. They sous vide just fine, but they were pretty much indistinguishable in flavour from the snails I had cooked in the shell. Both batches were buttery, garlicky, and full of savoury earthy flavour, and I couldn't really taste a difference.
Texturally speaking, there was a very slight difference. The sous vide snails were just a tiny bit softer than their oven-cooked counterparts, but the oven escargot was by no means "chewy". In fact, the difference was so slight, I'm not entirely confident I'd be able to tell the difference in a blind tasting, a theory I would have tested if there had been anyone around to blindfold me and feed me snails.
Also, cooking them in the shell means they stay hotter longer, as the shells get heated along with the snail meat. After removing the sous vide escargot from the bag and transferring them to their shells, then taking them back out of their shells to eat them, I found that they had cooled a good bit. (I guess I could have served them in a bowl without their shells, but they're not super visually appealing, and the shells really help with optics.) So, I'm not sure sous vide snails are "worth it", given the fact that they take longer to cook, and taste almost exactly the same as those cooked in-shell in the oven. (Both batches were delicious, basically.)