Not exactly escargots
August 23, 2009 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find live snails in London or not very far away?

I'd like to make some snail dishes but it seems practically impossible to buy a nice little bag of live snails around here.

Do you know of any place that sells them? Maybe some local shop in a more ethnic neighborhood that I am overlooking.

Alternatively, where can I get to work and just collect my own from the bushes without getting into trouble for trespassing or with park guards? More importantly, are snails abundant anywhere around London (no more than 1 hr train ride and hopefully with something more to do than snail picking) ?

I found that people in Somerset used to eat them...but that's a bit too far away.
posted by lucia__is__dada to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The snails native to most of the UK are very different to those cooked and eaten in France and elsewhere.
posted by FuckingAwesome at 6:40 AM on August 23, 2009

Collecting wild snails are a very bad idea. If nothing else, compare and contrast frogs for frogs legs.

You can find the right snails in the south of England on chalky soil, but according to the infallible Wiki, Helix Pomatia are legally protected and can't be harmed or collected.
posted by twine42 at 7:00 AM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Collecting wild snails areis a very bad idea.
posted by twine42 at 7:19 AM on August 23, 2009

Apparently, you can eat the ones out of the garden. Purification is recommended, however...
posted by zia at 7:37 AM on August 23, 2009

I'm kind of interested in escargot and my perfunctory Googling suggests that even in fine restaurants, they're almost always purchased in cans, which would eliminate the worries of both ingesting someone's lawn chemicals and getting arrested for sneaking around plucking snails out of gardens. I would try for the supermarket option. Here in the US, even where I have never known anyone to eat snails, they sell them in our local supermarket.

I haven't had the nerve to try this. But I'm interested.

Also, when you eat them, can you see their antennae? For some reason, I find that hard to take, but it might be like calamari, where you just have to get past the tentacles.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:50 AM on August 23, 2009

Gordon Ramsay ate the snails out of his own garden in a episode of his show, so there's at least one point that you can collect them wild somewhere in London and not poison yourself. (He does point out that you need to detox them after you've collected them.)
posted by pemberkins at 8:21 AM on August 23, 2009

I know of a garden full of 'em in South London, if you really want to give this a go. Send me a memail and I'll see about hooking you up.
posted by idest at 8:28 AM on August 23, 2009

I've found a reliable sign that a French chef has gone insane is his viewing escargot as "dishes" instead of a "dish", although normally I'd phrase this as "thinking the customer wants to taste the snail."

The whole point of escargot is the sauce tastes good enough to cover up the bad snail flavor. So (a) maybe any edible snail is fine and (b) you might want to reevaluate your target dishes.

Imho, the American version of escargot is basically chicken wings, i.e. chicken basically tastes like garbage, but you can conceal the flavor with spices. I've been meaning to make the escargot sauce for chicken wings some time. :)
posted by jeffburdges at 8:50 AM on August 23, 2009

I've done this before. In fact, I grew up doing this. This being collecting my own snails from wherever I found them (buying them in bags is a recent thing) and cooking them. After cleaning thoroughly! No fancy sauces, just boiling them in water with oil and spices and scoop them out with a toothpick. Poor people's food, not fancy dining. Eventually a bean and tomato stew but that's as refined as it gets.

I realize now, after googling, that I'm looking for Cepaea nemoralis or Hortensis. The smaller ones, with more tender meat. Which exist in the UK.

A terrible llama: Well, this is why I wrote the title "Not exactly escargots"... so, no canned stuff. It wouldn't work. But thank you anyway.

Pemberkins: hey, that video shows a snail farmer in England! But they are the big ones and I'm craving the small ones.

idest: right after this! hope you're talking about tiny snails...

Jeffburdges: Maybe the french versions are all about the sauces. I'm not crazy about escargot because you can't taste the snail meat. And the times I've eaten them in France they seem to use the snail's body only, not the... hmmm... stuff at the rear end of the shell which is the tastiest bit.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2009

I eat snails from my (organic) London garden all the time. They are perfectly edible, after a few days of purging on oatmeal, although they can still be somewhat slimy. You can find them anywhere in London. I would suggest any parkland on a rainy night. If you want to be sure of pesticide free snails, you could try one of the wildlife areas in Regent's Park.
posted by roofus at 2:20 PM on August 23, 2009

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