• The earliest evidence of snail eating has been found in Spain and the Mediterranean region. (Audrey Bourget )
Simmered in broth in Morocco, baked with garlic butter in France or grilled with lemongrass and chilli in Vietnam - there are many ways with snails.
By
Audrey Bourget

16 Sep 2019 - 12:31 PM  UPDATED 16 Sep 2019 - 12:35 PM

When you think about snails, a picture of French escargots drowned in garlic and parsley butter most likely comes to mind. But snails are not a one-trick pony.

Humans have been eating land snails since prehistoric times. The earliest evidence of snail-eating has been found in Spain and the Mediterranean region. Spanish people still eat snails in paella. In neighbouring Portugal, they're served as a snack, cooked in a broth with herbs. 

In Morocco, snails are cooked slowly in a broth containing a dozen spices like liquorice, thyme, caraway and aniseed.

Amanda and Youssef Mouttaki, who run Marrakech Food Tours, said in a statement via email: "Each vendor may have his own variation to the ratios and specific spices that go into his blend. The snails are then eaten with the broth and a toothpick to take out the meat."

"The more people who try to cook with them, the better." 

Street vendors sell the dish, called babbouche, in the evening. "They are usually eaten more as a snack and especially in the winter months. Many people also believe that the broth has curative properties so it's a way to help keep illness at bay," they said.

Sea snails are also popular in other parts of the world, from pickled whelk in the eastern part of Canada to sashimi abalone in Japan. In Vietnam, freshwater snails can be grilled, fried, steamed or boiled.

Youssef Mouttaki, who runs Marrakech Food Tours, says snails are usually eaten more as a snack and especially in the winter months.

Thi Le, chef and co-owner of Melbourne restaurant Anchovy says: "The best is stir-fried with chilli and tamarind. It's slightly sour, a little bit spicy and it's super delicious.

"If you go to Vietnam, you sit on a stool on the side of the road and you get yourself a beer and a pile of snails."

At Anchovy, Le poaches sea snails with makrut lime, lemongrass, galangal and beer. She also marinates land snails with fish sauce and barbecues them before serving them on skewers with a crispy lemongrass satế.

"The snails we're getting have a really grassy flavour, it's quite appealing. If your eyes were closed, you'd think you were eating a vegetable," she says.

Farming snails in Australia

While you'll often see sea snails at fish markets, land snails are harder to find in Australia.

David Plater lives in Cygnet, Tasmania, where he's been breeding garden snails, the only snail allowed for farming in Australia, for almost six years.

They are grown in a garden, eating mostly brassicas. He purges them and sells them live or fresh to local chefs and home cooks.

"The more people who try to cook with them, the better. It's an easy meat to use. I don’t think people should be afraid; it's not slimy and there are far more ways to prepare a snail than [with] the classic garlic sauce," he says. "It's like a firm meat. A good fresh snail should have a nutty flavour to it."

He loves to have them in a tempura batter and in a pate with mushrooms. While fresh is best, he says that canned snails are an OK alternative, but that you shouldn't expect the same flavour intensity.

TRY THEM AT HOME
Snails with pepperberry and garlic broth

You can only use properly purged snails for this Spanish-influenced dish. Don’t be put off by the slime - the end result is remarkably delicious.

Burgundy snails (escargots de Bourgogne)

You'll love how buttery and tender these French delicacies are. Snails - or escargot - are quick and easy to cook, and the results are delicious.

Snails cooked in a coriander and Thai basil butter (escargots au beurre de coriandre et basilic Thaïlandais)

My first meal in France was in a little restaurant in Paris. I ordered a bottle of wine and a serve of snails cooked in butter, garlic and parsley. They were so good that I didn’t think I’d ever find tastier snails in France — until I tried my cousin’s Vietnamese version.

Snail meat is also known to be good for your health: low in fat and carbs, and a good source of protein, iron, and magnesium. "It's all about eating stuff that is in plentiful supply, easy to get and extremely nutritious," says Plater.

Le recommends keeping things simple the first time you cook snail by stir-frying them in a pan with ingredients like fish sauce, chilli or butter.

For a bit of extra guidance, check out this week's episode of Gourmet Farmer to watch Matthew Evans visit a snail farm and cook up a simple snail and pepperberry broth.

Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @audreybourget and Twitter @audreybourget.

Watch Matthew Evans explore the world of snails in this week's episode of Gourmet Farmer, 8pm Thursday nights from August 1 to October 3 on SBS and SBS On Demand. Visit the Gourmet Farmer website for recipes, the episode guide and more.

WAYS WITH SNAILS
Snails with pepperberry and garlic broth

You can only use properly purged snails for this Spanish-influenced dish. Don’t be put off by the slime - the end result is remarkably delicious.

Burgundy snails (escargots de Bourgogne)

You'll love how buttery and tender these French delicacies are. Snails - or escargot - are quick and easy to cook, and the results are delicious.

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Snails with herb and walnut butter (escargots aux beurre d’herbes et de noix)

This dish is from the Midi-Pyrénées region. For the French, this is a very festive dish and each region has its own version, but they all contain lots of garlic. In the Midi/Pyrénées region, walnuts are added for extra crunch.

Snails cooked in a coriander and Thai basil butter (escargots au beurre de coriandre et basilic Thaïlandais)

My first meal in France was in a little restaurant in Paris. I ordered a bottle of wine and a serve of snails cooked in butter, garlic and parsley. They were so good that I didn’t think I’d ever find tastier snails in France — until I tried my cousin’s Vietnamese version.

Snails provençale (escargots à la provençale)

David Poirier, of Sydney restaurants La Grande Bouffe, Le Village and Bistro Mémé, shows Luke how to cook his grandmother’s recipe of escargots à la provençale.