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How to cook snails

By rleyton in Culture
Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 01:50:23 PM EST
Tags: Food (all tags)

It may come as a bit of a suprise, but Snails make a nice starter to a meal if cooked properly. My grandfather made quite a reputation for himself in the 1960's, and my publishing a version of his recipe for snails has attracted a fair bit of interest and correspondence.

I present his famous recipe here for anybody fancying a culinary experiment, and possibly wreaking a bit of tastful revenge on a common garden pest.

This recipe description is taken from "The Art of British Cooking", by Theodora Fitzgibbon (no longer in print). The recipe itself is by my grandfather, Paul Leyton (1914-1998).

Rather ironically, my grandfather was proud of the fact that he'd never tried his recipe. He came up with the recipe, and was told by a french customer - a bit of a fan of escargot - that his recipe was superb. It was added to the menu of his restaurant, "The Miners Arms" (Priddy, Somerset, in the UK, now sadly closed), and my grandfather subsequently became a bit of an authority on snails. One of his many claims to fame was appearing on BBC TV, and featuring a full page picture in the Radio Times, with some of his snails.

I would add a note of caution. If you're going to try this recipe, be very careful of the snails you use. You want Helix Aspersa, and not just any snail you may find in the garden. Check and double check. Important: You should also put the snails on a carefully controlled diet to purge them, ideally something like cornmeal, for a week or so before you plan to use them. You should take them off all food at least two or three days before you plan to use them.

It may come as a surprise to see snails mentioned in a British cookery book, but they have been eaten for many centuries in the west country. In the eighteenth century they were thought to be very good for backward children. In the London Gazette of 23rd March 1739 there is a long account of a 5,000 reward having been paid to Joanna Stephens for her tried and approved pills made from calcined snail and egg shells, mixed with fat and honey.

The large edible snail, Helix pomatia, was said to have been introduced into England by the romans, but the smaller garden snail, Helix aspersa, is far superior in flavour and succulence. This is on the authority of Mr Paul Leyton, of the Miners' Arms, Priddy, near Wells, Somerset, right in the Mendip Hills, where snails are a popular and regular dish with the patrons of that hotel.

Here's Paul Leyton's recipe.

Mendip Snails
When ready to be prepared the snails (at least 1-1 1/2 dozen per person) should be immersed in water to which about 1 tablespoon of salt per gallon has been added. After about 6 hours add 2 more tablespoons of salt, and after another 6, or overnight, a further 2 more.

The snails should remain immersed for 24-36 hours, after which they should be drained, and all the snails will be dead. The lid must be kept on all the time, and any snails which have crawled up the sides must be put back in the brine.

Two large saucepans must now be prepared half full with boiling water (about 2-3 pints), and the snails put in for about 5 minutes, first in one saucepan, with a tablespoon salt, and then in the other, during which time the water must be boiling furiously. This serves to clean the snails, and the reason for the two saucepans is that one serves as the wash and the other as the rinse. The snails should be drained and rinsed under the tap for a minute or two. Now the snails are ready to be finally simmered and served with their sauce.

For the Court Bouillon

  • 2 pints water
  • 1 pint dry draught cider or dry white whine
  • 2 bay
  • sprig of tarragon
  • 3 small sliced onions
  • 3 small sliced carrots
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • pepper and salt

    For the Sauce

  • 1/2 lb. butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon each dill, fennel, chervil, chives, lemon balm, finely chopped.
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon thyme finely chopped.

    For the court bouillon bring all ingredients to the boil, add the snails and simmer slowly for 4 hours. Then remove the snails and cool, mouth down, on a wire rack.

    For the sauce all ingredients should be beaten together and gently warmed. To fill snails with sauce, the snail is held in the left hand and nearly pulled out of its shell, the sauce is then forced into the shell with a small spoon. When full the snail is pressed back into the shell, and the snails put mouth up until the sauce sets.

    To serve they are put on to a snail plate and put either into a hot oven for a few minutes to heat through, or under a hot grill to get sizzling hot. They are served with thinly sliced brown bread and butter.

    The recipe should, once and for all, squash the legend that the English don't take time and trouble with their cooking!


  • This recipe description is taken from "The Art of British Cooking", by Theodora Fitzgibbon (no longer in print). The recipe itself is from Paul Leyton.
  • My original link is here, but presented here for your delication.
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    Would you eat Snails?
    o Yes 53%
    o No 6%
    o Maybe 12%
    o Yuck. 12%
    o I'd rather eat something else 14%

    Votes: 89
    Results | Other Polls

    Related Links
    o publishing a version of his recipe
    o Priddy, Somerset, in the UK
    o Helix Aspersa
    o Helix aspersa
    o original link is here
    o Also by rleyton

    Display: Sort:
    How to cook snails | 71 comments (27 topical, 44 editorial, 0 hidden)
    I just gotta ask (4.50 / 2) (#3)
    by twistedfirestarter on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 08:50:16 AM EST

    What happens if you eat non-orthodox kinds of snail? (I live in a non-european country, so other kinds of native snail are not uncommon) Poisoning? Mind blowing hallucinations?

    Superpowers (5.00 / 3) (#4)
    by Rogerborg on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 08:50:55 AM EST

    Or vomiting, I forget which.

    "Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
    [ Parent ]

    Both. (4.50 / 2) (#17)
    by graal on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 10:13:05 AM EST

    But very slowly.

    For Thou hast commanded, and so it is, that every
    inordinate affection should be its own punishment.
    -- St. Augustine (Confessions, i)
    [ Parent ]

    Fight on, Vomitman! FOR GREAT JUSTICE! (nt) (5.00 / 2) (#24)
    by DarkZero on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 10:51:32 AM EST

    [ Parent ]
    no, seriously (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by beanhead on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 11:09:26 AM EST

    You can find a list of the genus/species of several good snails for eating (as well as descriptions of their coloring and taste) here.

    [ Parent ]
    Not sure... (5.00 / 1) (#48)
    by rleyton on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 01:31:22 PM EST

    I think they either taste disgusting, give you stomach trouble, don't amount to much, or all of the above. Those little yellow and black ones always looked kind of green, and I have to say I wouldn't even be tempted to try them.

    Somebody might be able to answer authoritavely, however. I just say go with your instincts. If it looks icky, it probably is.

    Ooooooooooooooh! What does this button do!? - DeeDee, Dexters Lab.
    My Website
    [ Parent ]

    I just gotta ask (none / 0) (#71)
    by J hophree on Wed Jan 29, 2003 at 06:57:09 AM EST

    Twisted,The easiest method to find out if a particular snail is 'kosher' would be to check it for yourself. Early in the morning while the dew clings to the leaves and such,gather up several snails from a garden.After they have been washed under running water for approximately 10 minutes,place the little fellows on a plate. Pour a very small amount of red wine onto the plate and let stand for another 10 minutes.this will anesthetize the snails.Now carefully lift one from the plate. Holding with your thumb and forefinger,turn it upside down and gently blow warm moist air with your lips on the bottom side of the snail.When it gets an erection,check it for circumcision. Hope this helps

    [ Parent ]
    Variation (4.00 / 1) (#8)
    by wiredog on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 09:02:45 AM EST

    In the sauce, put in a bit of peanut butter. Seriously. There's a restaurant in Hanford California (the, IIRC, Imperial Dynasty, a chinese restaurant with no chinese food on the menu) that does this.

    Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
    Phil the Canuck

    +1 - British + Cooking = will stir things up! (3.50 / 2) (#23)
    by IslandApe on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 10:49:19 AM EST

    Sorry about the lame pun...

    ...but having lived in Germany I can say that the bad reputation of British cooking is a little over done.  Oops, another pun.

    It will be interesting to see what this subject brings up.  OMG another.  Must be the thought of Harvester "restuarants".

    O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, An' foolish notion;

    +1 section, but... (4.75 / 4) (#25)
    by jabber on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 10:52:20 AM EST

    It has no garlic in it, so I won't eat it. Snails without garlic are as great an affront to the culinary arts as eating fish with a knife. And, it takes forever to prepare.

    Sushi anyone?

    [TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

    Actually... (5.00 / 1) (#45)
    by rleyton on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 01:18:40 PM EST

    I think it does. I might have missed out the word 'garlic' when I transcribed it, but there is the reference to '3 or 4 cloves' - which I think was supposed to read '3 or 4 cloves of garlic'.

    I'm going to try and dig out the original recipies tonight, and I'll amend the article if the editors will accomodate me (Our work internet connection has been down all afternoon, hence no responses earlier)

    Ooooooooooooooh! What does this button do!? - DeeDee, Dexters Lab.
    My Website
    [ Parent ]

    Well, I should hope so... :) (none / 0) (#46)
    by jabber on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 01:21:29 PM EST

    Much as I like the smell of cloves around the Holidays, I'm nowhere near goth enough to actually cook with the stuff!

    [TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
    [ Parent ]

    Cooking Snails - shorter recipe (2.50 / 2) (#40)
    by SanSeveroPrince on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 12:00:39 PM EST


    Think of hard, living snot. Cooked, as if that made a difference.

    Just say no.


    Life is a tragedy to those who feel, and a comedy to those who think

    The taste of snails (none / 0) (#61)
    by Eccles on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 04:58:20 PM EST

    Think of hard, living snot.

    In all honesty, they taste a lot like slightly chewy clams.

    [ Parent ]
    Ack, cornmeal????!!!! (5.00 / 2) (#51)
    by michaelp on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 01:41:57 PM EST

    If you use snails you gather, put them in a cooler (leave holes for air to get in) and feed them cornmeal for a week or so (until their poop turns from nasty green/grey to nice golden yellow).

    -1 no article advocating DIY escargot should leave out this essential step to avoid rank tasting (no matter how much butter and garlic you use) snails.

    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

    A good point... (5.00 / 1) (#55)
    by rleyton on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 02:02:43 PM EST

    Yes, the purging is something that is rather missing from this article. A starvation diet a few days before you plan to use them also gets rid of the yick. I have to say, when I've entered into correspondence with people, I've always stressed this.

    I'm collating a list of amendments to send to the editors (network outage meant I missed being able to edit the story), and I'll ask them to add this to the preamble.

    Ooooooooooooooh! What does this button do!? - DeeDee, Dexters Lab.
    My Website
    [ Parent ]

    -1, Fuck no! (2.00 / 3) (#52)
    by dublet on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 01:44:50 PM EST

    Eating snails? Come on! I'm pretty openminded about food, but snails is where I draw the line. A Big Fat Line.

    Badger. Badger. ←
    -1, Open mind (5.00 / 1) (#56)
    by sethadam1 on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 02:56:53 PM EST

    Snails taste awesome, and anyone who's tried them knows this.  "Drawing the line" is a clear sign of cultural isolation and closed mindedness.  

    Try em, you might actually like them!

    [ Parent ]

    I can't eat 'em (5.00 / 2) (#57)
    by Verteiron on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 03:22:14 PM EST

    I keep snails as pets. No way could I ever feel comfortable with eating them. Poor little critters... putting them in saltwater makes their cells implode, you know.
    Prisoners! Seize each other!
    if i like escargot, would i like these? (5.00 / 1) (#59)
    by waxmop on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 04:30:49 PM EST

    i worked in a frou-frou seafood restaurant all through college, and ate plenty of escargot when the kitchen would overstock its supply. maybe the fact that i was eating the food of the aristocracy (for free, no less) outweighed the aversion. plus, the presentation helped disguise the snails' true nature: where i worked, they were presented in little dishes of garlic butter and outside of their shells. they were especially good on a toasted baguette.

    anyway, this snail recipe seems completely different; the snailiness is celebrated (they're served in the shells!), rather than oppressed.

    on an unrelated note, i wonder if this recipe was developed during wartime shortages.

    We are a monoculture of horsecock. Liar
    The recipe (none / 0) (#60)
    by rleyton on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 04:53:58 PM EST

    No, the recipe was developed whilst my grandfather ran the Miners Arms. Nothing to do with war shortages (although I'm sure it might well have happened!).

    He'd heard that local miners (there have been lead mines in Priddy since Roman times) cooked the 'wall fish' on their shovels, over a hot fire in victorian times. He then adapted the idea somewhat.

    On your main point, the snails are extracted from their shells in many restaurants with a special tong thingy and fork (so the idea is not really very unique). The clamp holds the (usually rather slippery) snail shell, and the small fork is used to pull the snail out. I'm sure they're not exclusive to snails (winkles perhaps?), but there are stories of the snail shells being shot across restaurants as clientelle get used to the clamps. Google's image search has found what I'm on about

    The restaurant actually moved to a much more traditional snail recipe (similar to your description) after my grandfather sold up. Much more garlic based, but still very popular.

    Ooooooooooooooh! What does this button do!? - DeeDee, Dexters Lab.
    My Website
    [ Parent ]

    space dust? (5.00 / 1) (#62)
    by fishling on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 05:59:35 PM EST

    ah, this article is actually titled "how to cook FOR snails"

    You didn't get all the dust. (5.00 / 1) (#63)
    by yogger on Mon Jan 27, 2003 at 07:20:12 PM EST

    The title should be "how to cook FORTY snails".

    The is only a test .sig
    If it were a real .sig it would contain useful and/or funny information
    [ Parent ]
    very strange. (5.00 / 1) (#66)
    by amarodeeps on Tue Jan 28, 2003 at 02:01:13 AM EST

    I just watched that episode of the Simpsons randomly today.

    Hmm...must be incontrovertible evidence of psychic connection, telepathy, etc. in humanity.

    [ Parent ]
    I wouldn't.... (2.00 / 1) (#64)
    by Spork on Tue Jan 28, 2003 at 12:15:29 AM EST

    As far as I know, most snails meant for human consuption should be fed with pure, clean oats for a few days. Otherwise they will taste gross. You don't just find them in your garden and boil them. Who knows what kind of crap they absorbed?

    Faster death? (none / 0) (#65)
    by Polverone on Tue Jan 28, 2003 at 01:13:23 AM EST

    I don't like the idea of drowning/dehydrating the snails. Is there a more rapid way of killing them that won't impair the flavor? I suppose I could build them a tiny gas chamber that pumps in hydrogen cyanide from an external generator, but that seems like a lot of work and may not be suitable for all kitchens. Like if your kitchen doesn't have a fume hood.
    It's not a just, good idea; it's the law.
    Snails not only for a starter (none / 0) (#67)
    by Beltza on Tue Jan 28, 2003 at 03:27:01 AM EST

    It is a misconception that snails only can be used as a starter. Over here in Catalunya (.es) there are plenty of main dishes prepared with snails.

    Also we have the Aplec del Caragol, where 12.000 participants come together to eat some snails (12 tons of snails in a weekend!)

    Be alert!!!
    The world needs more lerts...

    How to cook snails | 71 comments (27 topical, 44 editorial, 0 hidden)
    Display: Sort:


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