A gastropod mollusc, the snail is a terrestrial herbivorous animal that lives inside a spiral shell. It has been eaten for centuries and may have been one of the first animals to become a staple of the human diet. Highly valued since Roman times, it was bred by the Romans and is now farmed intensively in France, Algeria, and Turkey. The snails most commonly eaten in these countries are the white Burgundy or vineyard snail, which is 3 - 5 centimetres long and coiled inside a yellowish brown shell that is usually adorned with three to five brown spiral stripes, and the petit-gris or garden snail, which measures between 2½ - 3 centimetres and lives inside a yellowish grey shell that is often decorated with one to five broken purplish brown stripes.

The firmness and delicacy of snail flesh vary from one species to another. To enhance their taste, snails are often starved for about 10 days before they are eaten, and in Provence they are fed a special thyme-based diet for added flavour.


Snails are sold frozen, canned, or cooked. In France and certain other countries, it is also possible to buy live snails.


Fresh or cooked snails can be refrigerated put a weight on top of it to prevent the snails from escaping; for up to 3 days, and shelled snails can be frozen for up to 3 months.


Preparing Live Snails
  • Wash the snails in cold water; if necessary, remove the hard partition covering the opening of the shell;
  • Disgorge the snails (3 - 4 dozen) for 3 hours in a mixture of coarse salt (a handful), vinegar (½ cup), and flour (1 tablespoon); cover the container and stir the mixture from time to time (some people omit this step because they feel it diminishes the quality of the flesh);
  • Remove the snails from the container and wash them thoroughly in cold water to remove all the mucous from their shells;
  • Put the snails in a saucepan and cover them with cold water; bring the water to a boil and allow it to boil gently for 5 minutes; strain the snails and rinse them under cold water;
  • Shell the snails and remove the black part (cloaca) at end of their tails; do not remove the glands and the liver, which are among the most flavourful and nourishing parts of the snail;
  • Cook the snails as desired.


Snails are often served in a special dish (escargotiere) divided into 6 or 12 sections. They can be prepared in many different ways: grilled, sautéed, or cooked on brochettes or in sauces, court bouillon, or puff pastry. A snail served piping hot in garlic butter is a classic appetizer.

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