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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Preparing & Cooking Garden Snails

Preparing & Cooking Garden Snails

If the SHTF and food sources become over hunted...and they will.  You must consider other means of feeding your family.  The garden snail, Helix aspersa, came to Britain with the Romans, who loved to eat them, they may have come earlier, in the Bronze age, but didn’t spread much. It’s the snail most cultivated for gourmet food and is known as petit gris.


Snails are nocturnal, and like places which are dark and damp. So in spring and autumn they are most active, destructive and edible. When it’s dry or cold they seal themselves up, to hibernate in winter, and aestivate in summer. After being closed up for long they have less fat, but are still edible.

The French used to collect them in autumn, when dormant and already naturally purged and safe inside their shells, in the autumn. This is a good shortcut, avoiding the need to fatten up and dry out by purging.

To see check if a snail is mature, not growing any more, feel the outer, front edge of the of the shell opening. If it has a hard lip it has finished growing, if it's a bit soft, and less prominent, it is an immature one, leave it to grow up!

If you want to eat garden snails regularly, then you should breed them.

A vivarium, a wooden box, bucket or washing bowl are suitable for snails to breed in, if outside, should be placed in full shade. Ideally they are kept at 20o C in damp air to breed, so in a greenhouse or coldframe is better. Spray water in the house to keep it damp. They need good moist soil is a flowerpot or box to lay the eggs in.  Rodents and birds must be kept out.

They are hermaphrodites, but two must mate to breed. You can keep just two fine large specimens together in quite a small container. The eggs take three weeks to hatch if they’re kept at 20o C. In good conditions they are mature and ready to eat after 3 months of growing.

To grow they need lime to make their shells, so for keeping snails long term, it is important to provide lime. Crushed oyster shell is suitable, but I think powdered lime is best, available from garden centres, or cheaper is a sack from a builders merchant. It's good for the soil when growing vegetables too.

They can produce 100s of young, so a bigger house is necessary for them to grow up in. I have an old cracked aquarium, but an enclosed space can be made with special snail netting. I could only find it in rolls. I will buy a roll, and sell shorter lengths to any of you who would like some.

In theory ( I haven't personally done this yet) it is possible to produce edible mature snails by autumn or late summer from a pair put together in the spring. I have paired two up, and wait in hope!


Provide them with a home for about a week, where you can give them food and water, exclude soil and grit, and crucially, keep them in. They are good escapologists! An old pair of tights makes a good cover for a bucket. A softwood box is good too. It is important to provide plenty of ventilation.

Feed them with human-friendly food for a week or more, to clear out any grit in their guts and fattens them up a bit. Lettuce, onion greens, apples are things they love, stale bread, bran and sunflower seeds are good. If you keep them for more than a week you must give them powdered lime, from a garden centre or builders merchant if you want a sack!


Before cooking they are purged, that means no food or water for 48 hours, so their guts empty and their close up in thei shells with a membrane protecting them. They are washed thoroughly before this stage, and after.  Commercially they just hang them in nets for up to a fortnight.

At home you can use a dry bucket without food, but with some wood or stones, an earthenware flower pot, for shelter. Make sure they are well secured with the tights!

Take the snails out carefully from the home they were feeding in to another container like a colander, wash them well, two or three times. Then put them in the purging bucket for 48 hours. you can use the same bucket, but might need help to prevent escapes while you take everything out of the bucket, wash it, and just return what you used for their shelter, but no food or water.

COOKING is in 3 stages:

1 Killing: they must be right inside their shells, if not, disturb them by gently shaking the container. Plunge them into boiling water for two - five mins.

2 Then cool them in cold water, and extract them carefully from their shells with a toothpick or pin.

3 Then they are cooked for an hour or so in good tasty stock. The French always include wine. See below

4 Then they are baked with butter and flavourings. This is because they are quite low in fat, and flavour.

5 Serve with bread.

Serving them in their shells requires two extra stages:--

6 Cleaning and drying the shells, see below

7 Putting the snail into the shells with butter sauce, then baking.

THE STOCK cook up for ½ hour or so. This was used on the One Show, a court bouillon or your own stock recipe is fine.

Then add the snails, after removal from shells.

1 lt water

generous handfuls of fresh:

water parsnip leaves

wild sorrel

nettle tips

Some welsh onion/garlic


Ramsons (wild garlic)

Thyme, basil,


Bay leaf


½ bottle of Chardonnay.


To melted butter, add garlic cloves

Then ground almonds to make a soft paste.

Put a snail in each hollow of a snail plate and add as much paste as possible.

Bake for 20 mins.

Serve with cubes of bread and salad.


Using a good book, collect seasonal weeds. For the One Show in April, I used those below.

Wash and chop finely, then

Blanch for 5 mins the wild herbs you can lay your hands on.

I used the following:

Water parsnip

Wild sorrel

Water cress

Nettle tips

A little ribwort plantain.

Sieve , pressing out the water.

Finely chopped ramsons

(if in season, otherwise use onion or garlic with the blanched herbs)

Add all these to melted butter.

Put a snail in each hollow of a snail plate and add as much paste as possible.

Bake for 20 mins.

Serve with cubes of bread and salad.

An old French recipe:

“To dress snails:

Put some water into a saucepan, and when it begins to boil throw in the snails, and let them boild a quarter of an hour; then take them out of their shells; wash them several times, taking great pains to cleanse them thoroughly, place them in clean water and boil them again for a quarter of an hour; then take them out, rinse them, dry them, and place them with a little butter in a frying pan, fry them gently for a few minutes, sufficient to brown them, then serve them with some piquant sauce.”

From “Edible Molluscs from great Britain and Ireland” by M S Lovell, a, PDF book that I downloaded from pages 23 – 27

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1 comment:

  1. Many years ago in France I ate snail for dinner. They were OK and of course that probably has a lot to do with the preperation skills of the cook. But I am not left with any "need" to go looking for snails in my garden and really wonder who would be. They are edible but so are worms and I don't eat them even though tere are plenty available. I would eat worms in a survival situation and I would eat snails too. But until I can no longer get hamburger, chicken and pork from the grocvery store snails are not on my list.