Savory Snail Recipes

Learn how to find snails in your garden or neighborhood and turn them into one of many savory snail recipes.


| July/August 1979



snail in cornmeal

Place your fresh batch of snails in oatmeal or cornmeal for 10 to 14 days to fatten them up and further clean their digestive tracks. 


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/ COMUGNERO SILVANA

Snails are one group of pests that most folks would like to evict from their gardens forever. For us MOTHER EARTH NEWS types who aren't fond of chemical baits, about the easiest way to reduce the population of these leaf munchers is to pick 'em off the plants by hand. But what do you do with the creatures after you've collected a batch? Why, you cook 'em up, of course!

A Little Background on the Types of Snails

Now before you get queasy . . . remember that snails belong to the phylum Mollusca which includes oysters, clams, and other familiar shellfish — and can be used in gumbos or any other recipes calling for such "ordinary" edibles. For centuries escargots , as the French know them, have been a popular European dish . ... their consumption actually dates back to the Stone Age!

Snails are believed to have been brought to America during the nineteenth century and cultivated here as a food source. Some of the gregarious immigrants escaped . . . liked the climate ... and multiplied rapidly. Their descendants — which still menace our gardens today — are rich in protein and minerals and low in calories (about 90 units per 100 grams of meat).

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, several types of common land snails found in this country are known to be edible. Here are the descriptions of just a few varieties:

Burgundy or Roman Snail (Helix pomatia): Its light tan shell has a rather wide, uninterrupted spiral brown band.

Petit-Gris, Brown Garden, European Brown, or European Spotted Snail (Helix aspersa): This one's yellow or off-white shell is large, rather thin, and has brown spiral bands with yellow flecks or streaks.

Milk or Spanish Snail (Otala lactea): Its flattened, white shell has reddish-brown bands.

Wood Snail (Cepaea nemoralis ): The shell might be yellow, olive, or red, but it usually has one to five reddishbrown bands.

How to Find Snails

As you probably already know, snails are nocturnal and prefer to feed on tender flowers and vegetable plants during the first half of the night. By day, the little critters hide in cool, dark, moist places. If the weather becomes too hot or cold, they'll hibernate until conditions are favorable.

According to connoisseurs, escargots taste best in the fall, but they can be eaten any time of the year. It's wise, however, to catch only mature specimens . . . with shells of at least one inch in diameter. Immature snails don't yield much meat, and their "houses" will break easily when handled. (Be sure, too, that those you collect are alive: The healthy specimens will withdraw into their shells when touched.)

One simple way to gather the little beasts is to thoroughly water an infested area at dusk. The dampness will bring the snails out of hiding, and after waiting an hour or so you can use a lantern or flashlight to spot your harvest. It's also possible to trap snails by laying boards, stones, lettuce leaves, or citrus fruit rinds on the ground (place 'em near plants for best results). Then, all you have to do is gather up the snails that will be hidden underneath your "snares" early the next morning. (If any pesticides have been used on your lawn or garden, though . . . the area should be watered down thoroughly, and the mollusk harvest postponed for at least six weeks.)

Once you've collected a supply of snails, they must be purged of any toxic materials — and blanched before being prepared for the table. These processes are relatively simple, but essential. And if you'd prefer your escargots super-tender (rather than just a mite chewy), you may want to simmer the meat awhile, too, before embarking on a recipe. 

Shell We Dine? 

When the pests —turned protein — have been cleansed, fattened, and blanched ... pull them from their shells — with a toothpick, ice pick, nut pick, or small knife — and discard the small, dark, fleshy coil (it's found at the end of the snail's body) that connects each animal to its shell. (The dark area is the gallbladder, and it's bitter.) You may also want to cut off any horny operculum at the tip of each snail's head. Now, rinse the meat again under cold water.

This is a good time to prepare a number of the prettier shells for future use. To clean the natural "serving dishes", boil 'em for 30 minutes with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to each pint of water. Then drain the shells and rinse them thoroughly.

Most all European cookbooks have elaborate recipes for snails, but here are a few simple (yet delicious!) "food formulas" from the University of California's Cooperative Extension.
 

Stuffed Snail Shells Recipe

Simmer the cleaned and blanched snail meat in salted water until tender. Then chop up the tiny "steaks" and mix 'em with minced garlic. Sauté in olive oil or margarine for about five minutes. Stuff the cooked meat into a shell, seal the opening with garlic butter, place under a broiler until the butter bubbles, and serve the dish immediately.

(To make garlic butter . . . cream 1/2 cup of butter or margarine, 3 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley, 2 teaspoons of minced green onions and tops, 1 clove of crushed garlic, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper until all the ingredients are thoroughly blended.)





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