A Snail's Pace

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Keeping a garden of herbs and vegetables is one of my greatest pleasures; keeping that garden grow without the use of pesticides and chemicals is on my biggest headaches. It doesn’t matter how on top of things I am, my enemies never fail to secretly invade and set up camp when I’m not looking. Because of this I can’t grow basil, my cabbage looks like Swiss cheese and I’m probably the only person I know with sorrel that looks like lace, elaborate decorative holes and all.

I’ve done the ladybug thing, and they clearly didn’t find my garden as nice as I thought they would and they fled. I’ve tried covering certain plants with protective covering but darn if the pests aren’t creative. I’ve mixed things bugs don’t like with those that they love, hoping to put an end to the endless buffet. Nothing worked. I’ve tried bargaining with them, even telling the snail colony that recently moved in that I’ll trade them a leafy green if they "leaf" my herbs alone. They didn’t listen.

Always one to make lemonade out of lemons (Meyers, thank you very much), I remembered an article I read in SF Gate about a man named Victor Yool and his penchant for snails. You see, this man not only loved serving these meaty mollusks to guests, but he harvested them from his own backyard! BINGO! If my snails were going to eat my greens then I was going to eat them! It’s a cruel world indeed.

After some research and a quick chat with a zoologist acquaintance, I decided to pursue this experiment seriously. I learned that thanks to an Italian immigrant who came to California 150 years ago, the common garden snail is actually the edible variety. I had discovered a goldmind of Helix aspersa in my yard and soon they would be swimming in butter and garlic. And I couldn’t wait.

But wait I would have to. Even though I refrain from using chemicals and pesticides in my yard, I couldn’t be assured that my snow poke pests hadn’t visited a neighbor’s yard and ingested any harmful toxins. I would have to purge them, a process that involved containing them and feeding them greens, corn meal and water for a minimum of two weeks.

Ladies and gentleman, my name is Matt. I am a Snail Wrangler.

For two weeks I had to endure the gasp of friends and the disgust of my partner. It turns out that snails creep out quite a bit of people. But I can’t figure out why. What’s not to love about a slow moving shapeless blob with movie antennae that leaves behind a trail of slime and long, black stringy waste? Apparently tons.

Nevertheless, I forged ahead for the sake of culinary experience.

After my guests had cleaned out their systems they were ready to be processed. I said a small prayer before dunking my mollusks into boiling water, shell and all. There are different schools of thought on what to do here; some methods involve layering snails in coase sea salt which causes them to disgorge themselves before the boiling process, but I went straight for a quick kill.

They cooked for about 10-15 minutes and required a change of water. I also had to skim off the foam that appears on the surface. Once the foam was gone I was ready.
I rinsed the snails under cool water and used a small fork to remove the snail from its shell. This was done with a fine blend of facination and disgust; everything I’ve always wondered about snail anatomy was slipping around in my hand.

Farming snails from my garden and then cooking them gave me a crash course in their anatomy. After a deep breath I decided I didn’t want to consume their hepatopancreas, an organ that functions similar to a liver and pancreas in mammals. This is only a personal preference–some escargot lovers eat the entire thing.

After removing the hepatopancreas I chopped up the remaining meat. My shells weren’t terribly big and I knew I’d never be able to get a whole cooked snail back in so I opted for a nice chop. Into the pan went butter, garlic, parsley, white wine, sea salt and my snail meat, long enough to heat through and cook a small bit of alcohol off. Once done, my snail bits went back into the shell and back in the oven for a few minutes. Once done I topped with more parsley and dug in.

They were just as delicious as could be. Sure, there was unnerving snail foam all over the kitchen. Yes, there was a distinct earthy smell that hung around from boiling the mollusks, but one taste of that buttery, garlicky goodness made this science experience rewarding, delicious and educational.

As far as my garden goes, my basil still may be half-eaten and my parsley full of holes, but it’s okay. The snails may have won this battle, but I’m the one with plenty of recipes in my arsenal.

Disclaimer: You never know where your snails may have been. Because of this please use caution when eating snails from your garden. They may have come in contact with pesticides and you do not want to ingest that.

50 Responses to “A Snail's Pace”

  1. Anonymous jessica 

    you are my hero. this sounds like something jeffrey steingarten would do. he's my other hero.

  2. Anonymous Tana 

    Hiya! You are insane, right? SNAILS?!?!?!

    The key to the ladybugs is to release them at night. They're more likely to stay put that way.

    Hope this helps.

    : D

  3. Anonymous melissa mcgee 

    i am bowing at your greatness, matt. i agree with jessica; you are my hero! i love that you truly turned lemons (meyers, of course) into lemonade - and that it was delicious. on a photographic note, i loved the photo of the boiled snail - that is really beautiful in a grotesque, mollusk-y sort of way. i love it.

    i read this three times through laughing out loud the entire time. this is my favorite of your posts in quite a while! bravo, snail wrangler!!! bravo!

  4. Anonymous Melissa 

    wow, you are amazing!

    I have to admit to reading this post with both fascination and disgust. snails are one of the few things that I just simply have no stomach for (and yes, to be fair I have tried them, in France no less!). but that does nothing to lessen my admiration for you - in fact, it probably heightens it :)

    a funny story is that when I was a teenager my parents mail-ordered a huge box of ladybugs to combat aphids that were destroying a couple of fruit trees they'd planted. they released the bugs, who then promptly disappeared for nine months while the aphids continued their ravages. the next spring, however, as soon as the weather warmed up, thousands of ladybugs started emerging from the wood beams in the ceiling of MY BEDROOM and clustering on the windows. every day i would scrape a cupful of them off and deposit them outside. this repeated itself for several years (actually until my parents moved - it may still be happening!) - every spring, my bedroom would become an intensive ladybug breeding ground. luckily I have fewer issues with ladybugs than I do with snails... not that I ever considered eating them!

  5. Anonymous Brett 

    Matt, you are simply amazing! If anyone is handing out awards, I think you win the blue ribbon for Eat Local Month, hands down. I see a traditional paella valenciana in your future (rabbit, snails, romano beans, saffron). Buen provecho!

  6. Anonymous Faith 

    Amazing. I am amazed. More precisely, I am in awe.

  7. Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande 

    Yeah Matt! This is SUCh a fun post! And snails miam! You are brilliant and to see the action shot of the boling water! I love it!

  8. Anonymous Sharon 

    Matt, this is incredible! Did you wear a cowboy hat while you were snail wranglin'? I love it. I'm in the fascinated-with-snails camp: they look cool, carry their own house, have an admirable pace. But that they can be made into something that looks as awesome as this—there is value.

    We don't have snails here in the wilds of Pittsburgh, mainly slugs, which I can't imagine eating...and those are totally gross.

    I wish for good greens for you!

  9. Anonymous Brenda 

    Wow...I've been following your blog for a while and always love your posts but I must say, this one is amazing, I loved it!

  10. Anonymous david 

    ok matt....there is a solution to save your garden from snails.

    rub the rim of your pots with vaseline. the snails don't like that and will simply turn back!!

    well at least snails in malta do that...you'll have to check about snails on your side!

  11. Anonymous hawktrainer 

    Though i greatly admire your resourcefulness, one way that a friend's father used to combat snails and slugs was to put a pan of beer in the garden. they couldn't resist the smell and would dive (not really) into the beer pool and drown a drunken death. It seemed to work wonders since he didn't drink but always had a 40 in the fridge.

  12. Anonymous Rosa 

    I read your post with a lot of admiration, because I could simply never do what you did! I could not gather up enough strength to throw those snails into the boiling water and I could not be couragous enough to eat those slimy little creatures!...

    Nonetheless, your dish looked nice...

  13. Anonymous Chubby Hubby 

    Matt, we are not worthy! This is an amazing story, a true example of slow food at its best, and wonderfully captured through your fantastic pix as usual. I'm totally in awe. I'd never have the patience nor resolve to raise and then eat my own food.

    Someone smart give this man his own column in a nationally-syndicated magazine! Now!

  14. Anonymous Emma 

    I am so happy to read this! Wonderful photographs. I have often though about doing the same, but have never dared! We used to have a next door neighbour who would purge his snails on flour and garlic.
    My sister and I have come to the conclusion that you need a sacrifice in the garden to prevent the snails and caterpillars eating everything - bok choy works for my local population and buttercrunch lettuce for my sister. A mild solution of washing-up liquid sprayed on the leaves and crushed up egg shells on the soil around the plants to stop them crawling works too!

  15. Anonymous keiko 

    Matth, what an extraordinary post - I've been fighting against them in my garden too (we have loads of slugs too!) but I haven't got nerve to cook them...

  16. Anonymous Alisa 

    You are a brave, brave man.
    I LOVE escargot. The ones you get served in restaurants, or the ones you can buy pre-cleaned and pre-parslied, garlic-ed and buttered, that you warm and eat. LOVE them.
    But I have convinced myself that "they" are not the same snails that can be found in the garden, and the idea of eating "those" scares the c@!* outa me. Am I living blissfully in denial? Or are the snails used for escargot from the sea? Farmed somewhere sanitary? Or are they your basic garden variety???

  17. Anonymous Alisa 

    So I can Google, and found this in english:
    Which answers all my questions!

    Thought you might like it too.

  18. Anonymous Helen 

    If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em, I say. And more power to you!

    Nice work!

  19. Anonymous Barbara 

    Good on you, Matt!

    Hawktrainer already told you the beer trick that I was going to tell you to foil slugs and snails--it has always worked great for me--but there is another way to get the wee buggers.

    Diatomaceous earth. It is basically ground up skeletons of diatoms, which are sharp and snaggly to little slithery fellows like snails and slugs. But it doesn't harm people or pets or kids or anything like that. You sprinkle it around your plants and it is the equivalent of putting out a buffet in front of a bunch of barefoot starving people, then sprinkling a wide area around the buffet with a barrier of broken glass, rusty nails and sharp stones.

    It workes great. But then, so does the beer, and it is easier to find.

    At any rate--we don't have snails much here, just slugs, and I don't think I could eat those. But, really--if I came to your house, I would try the snails!

  20. Anonymous Dianka3103 

    This is amazing! I always learn so much from you, thank you!


  21. Anonymous Cenk 

    Amazing post, Matt. Although temporary, as hawktrainer already posted above, the best solution to get rid of snails is burying a medium sized plastic pot on the ground and filling it up with beer.

    And if you've already decided that you will continue eating them, consider it as a marinade :)

    I suspect that you have a shady garden. A permanent solution would be to trim some of the branches off the large trees (if any) so that your garden gets more sun light. Also, if your garden is shady, you need to water it in the early morning only. Do not water it at night as moisture mixed with humidity makes it a perfect home for snails and slugs.

    As for the other bugs that terrorize the basil and cabbage, try inviting birds to your garden by adding feeders and birdbaths.

    Good luck!

  22. Anonymous David L 

    'tis a braver man than I...

  23. Anonymous Angela 

    Hi Matt!
    Jim uses DE (diatomaceous earth) at the brewery to filter beer (weird, huh? mother nature is like that.) Anywho, I don't know if there are any microbreweries near you, but you might find some DE through your food/brewery/whatever supply contacts.
    Hey, you know the one about the snail who painted "S's" on his car? When he drove around town, everyone said "look at that S car go!"

  24. Anonymous Kevin 

    Hey Matt--thanks for the neat package of savory information, laughter and bullseye photography that is your blog! I love it! I am sitting here now, vacillating between the urge to break open a crisp chardonnay and the urge to run to the bathroom and lose my Grape Nuts breakfast.

    Our garden is also chock full o' pesky gastropods. I've considered the "death by Corona" option, but I'm afraid my dogs would simply think I was setting up a happy-hour of drinks and slow-moving appetizers in the garden. Thanks for the great post!

  25. Anonymous JenJen 

    You brave brave man!

  26. Anonymous Darrell 

    Snails prepared and served --- yes!

    But I just couldn't bring myself to eating them after all that gutting and cleaning and boiling and oozing. Not to mention the anatomy lesson.

    There's only one sure way to rid your garden of snails: Perform a little traumatic compression on every single one you see.

  27. Anonymous jared 

    Yikes! Cooking as vengeance...and talk about eating locally.

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  29. Anonymous Samuel 
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  31. Anonymous melissa mcgee 

    congratulations on this post being featured in metroblogging los angeles!

  32. Anonymous Pim 

    Talking about eating local.
    I'm in awe.


  33. Anonymous Kalyn 

    What a fascinating post. I used to work in a fancy french restaurant and we ate escargot all the time. I was quite fond of it, but I don't know if I would be brave enough to do what you did.

  34. Anonymous Winnie 

    Hi, Matt- One more organic slug and snail repellent. I used powdered ginger from the health food store to good effect for my lettuces. Meant it might have tasted better with a soy based dressing if I hadn't had rain (I was living in Colorado at the time). At least I didn't have to worry about my dog. the neighbor's cats, or my kid taste testing since it's digestible.

  35. Anonymous Jim 

    Wow. Just wow.

  36. Anonymous cookiecrumb 

    Bravo! Awesome.
    I've long known that our California snails are the edible variety, but 1) I don't want to eat snails, and 2) neither does my husband.

  37. Anonymous Brenda in SB 

    If you run short of snails to wrangle, I have a garden full... Just wanted to tell you DE isn't all that hard to find; it's just old-fashioned kitty litter, not the clumping kind. Not as easy to locate as it used to be, but Von's carries their own store brand. I get the unscented variety, and spread a band around the plantings I want to protect. Downside is having to reapply after heavy rain, but I think we should be mostly through with our rainy season now. So far I've only found a few dead snails with this method; the others seem to avoid crossing the DE.

  38. Anonymous Kimberly 

    I am in awe, and hungry, too.

    When I lived in California, I used to imagine our garden's snails in butter and garlic, but could never quite bring myself to try cooking them. Sadly, our yard in Seattle has more than enough slugs, but few snails.

  39. Anonymous Jeni 

    You are one loco local!

  40. Anonymous Elise 

    Bravo! You've done what I've not dared. I love escargot and the hate snails that ravage my garden. But to actually charge ahead and cook those slimy suckers. Wow.

    By the way, a couple of tips.

    If you use lady bugs, best to release them at night. They will feast all night and not fly away. It is the heat of the day that makes them want to fly away.

    Also, apparently chickens love snails. One of these days I'm going to get one just to peck around the garden.

  41. Anonymous Ken 

    My compliments! I love snails served in restaurants. I once attempted this years ago, after reading a "how to" the S.F. Chronicle. I collected a bucketful, and fed lettuce to them to clean out their systems. But - after procrastinating 2 days I chickened out.

    So, fed them live to my two ducks - Lewis & Clark. They joyously wolfed them down and looked for more.

    BTW - anyone who's squeamish about snails - that's what abalones and conches are...

  42. Anonymous McAuliflower 

    Wonderful posting! I've often wondered why I don't see more snail dishes up here in snail infested Oregon.

    Would you be willing to test out eating slugs for me? No shells... no bother right?

  43. Anonymous Kels 


  44. Anonymous CHAMELEONZ 

    A good trick is to also feed them basil or any other herbs you enjoy and they will taste like that herb after you cook them.
    by the way I am a chef and we raised our own snails like that for years in westchester county here in NY so we could have fresh snails just like in France and they are delicioso my friends try to raise them yourself and you will nt be sorry.

  45. Anonymous Diva 

    I am glad to see you had no crisis.
    When I tried this a few years ago, the snails were crawling out of the pot.
    Perhaps the water wasn't boiling when I put them in..
    For me..a once in a lifetime experience..
    I will let someone else cook my snails for me, at any price!

  46. Anonymous Jake 

    I loved your post and I love to eat snails.

    Once (in a drunken stupor) I devised a business plan involving a chain of "Slow Food" eateries that would serve "pails of snails" (copyright pending). Snails could be grown out back - and prepared fresh daily...

    even thought of a cool name:

    Escargot To Go!

    You interested in the head cook and wrangler job?

  47. Anonymous julie 

    Found your site by way of Cauponilla...will come back to visit often. This is a most fascinating post. I commend your sense of adventure, not only did you decide to act on the idea, but you fully researched it first and then charged onward in your kitchen! I'm truly impressed!!!

  48. Anonymous fritzie 

    Hi, i`m not an avid snail lover, so my question is how to get rid of them, I`ve never seen so many as in the last year and their everywhere,they have a light green shell that is actually quit pretty, none the less their taking over my yard, should i also mention i live on Long Island, while we do have a few sluggs here and there, this type of snail is new to my area.

  49. Anonymous Claude 

    Hi Matt,

    first visit to your blog and it looks a lot of fun! I was brought up in France and we used to go escargot hunting in my grand parents' garden which was very large and surrounded by high stone walls. My grand father used to grow pretty much all they needed and it was just wonderful, full of fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, flowers.... the lot including a 100 year old pear tree!

    The escargot hunts were always a treat, usually in the rain or soon afterwards, searching in the cracks in between the stones for the little creatures.

    They were then brought to my grand mother who would put them in a plastic bucket and heavily salt them with coarse sea salt for a couple of days, draining the scum that formed and re-salting after one day. They would then simply slip out of their shells and she would then scrub them thouroughly and cook them pretty much as you described but she would keep them whole. Yum!

    Thanks for sharing such a fun event with us all!

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About me

  • I'm Matt Armendariz
  • From Los Angeles, California
  • A man with a passion for good food and a wonderful life with a dash of irreverence. Read at your own risk. Advertising director by day, wino by night. All photos on this site by Matt Armendariz.
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