Escargot: From Palace Garden to Family Table

Page 1

How to forage, cleanse and prepare

For my mother Magdalena and my family.

Contents 01



Foraging in the palace garden


What you need

When to go

How many to pick

Where to find them

Which size is acceptable?


Cleansing Disgorgement

Killing and extraction

Removal of the hepatopancreas?

Preparing shells as food containers

Making court bouillon and bouquet garni

Cooking the snails

Making beurre d’escargot



Grilling Serving

27 28 33 34 37 39 39 40


French wines Local wines French selections Italian selections


15 16 21 22 23 25


Basic procedure


11 11 12 12 12


What is the meaning of this?




42 42 44 46 48


Foraging in the palace garden Come December 24th and there we were, my mother and I, seated at the old wooden table on creaking chairs – handed down to us from concerned neighbors – feeling like royalty feasting on homemade escargots. It was, for us, the delicious opening of a delightful, deeply meaningful, albeit modified Catholic Christmas meal, where many ingredients had been collected, grown and prepared by us over the course of the year. My earliest memories of this two-person tradition dates back to the early 1980’s, when I was just 6 years old. As a child I noted, but didn’t reflect deeper upon the looks of wonder, disbelief, sometimes disgust and rarely awe that met my mother and I when foraging for snails. August and September would have us walk around in the forgotten English gardens of the baroque royal Rosersberg Palace, just north of Stockholm – the one and only place we would go to for snail hunting.



This palace is rich with royal history. My mother often mused over the possibilities of the snails we picked actually being direct descendants from Burgundy in France, given that the palace was once inhabited by Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, a Frenchman who inherited the Swedish throne in 1810. Because French was the language spoken by the Swedish aristocracy, Jean Baptiste (or Charles XIV John) never learned Swedish. Perhaps then he never learned to eat Swedish food either, but rather maintained his French food traditions? How easy it would have been to transplant snails from Burgundy to the palace garden of Rosersberg… We needed no more convincing than that to commit ourselves exclusively to these beautiful historical snail hunting grounds. For all that we knew we were picking French Burgundy snails right there in Sweden. Our favorite route began off the right palace wing along a gravel path, veering right to the old oak tree, our first stop. I would hide in the hollow. Then we passed the servant’s quarters and the apple orchards and entered the European beech woods. In here, light filtered through the canopy in a sort of constant dusk, a few glittering flashes of brighter light here and there. Then followed the dense oak alley down to the water where we would swim in summer, surrounded by gentle grazing horses. Yet further, we trailed on to a small cave where, long ago, Prince Eugen of Savoy too played as a child. When our wicker baskets were full, heavy with our live bounty, we’d put them in the back of my mother’s yellow Mini Morris and drive back home. Home was a two-story row house in a quiet Swedish residential neighborhood, not far from Rosersberg Palace. A small yard in the front, a terrace off the side, and a larger patch of common lawn space right behind the house. There, we released the snails in a cage made out of chicken wire fencing, or, if that felt too expensive and elaborate, simple large cardboard boxes, safely away from any greenery and soil. With delight and excitement, my 6-year old self would invite friends over to help feed and care for all 200 of them. Many children got heavily engaged in escape prevention management.


As an adult, I now know that these are memories my friends of childhood never will forget. Raising snails in your backyard in suburban 1980’s Sweden was perhaps not so very common. A period of cleansing, killing and preparing ensued, spanning over the course of eight days. No friends would appear for this latter, grizzly part of the process – our pets were being killed. My curious child’s eye and mind followed every step, recording it, without ever considering it strange or out of place. Foraging, raising and preparing snails, or escargots, were just something we did, a part of who we were. At the end of the eight days, our freezer was full of stuffed shells, ready for winter debauchery. Snails are an easily harvested protein. As luxurious as it may have been for us to feast our bellies full on these tiny delicacies in the dark of the cold Swedish winters, later I learned that it was a way for my mother to supplement our food supply – as she did by foraging mushrooms and growing a vegetable garden in lieu of a flower one (which too was a subject of controversy in our horticultural neighborhood). Today, none of us remember the empty wallet, but rather the many long walks in that grand nature and savoring the fruits of our labor, the richest taste of all. The escargot dish my mother prepared has ultimately come to be the one against which I measure all others. I cannot help it. Wild snails in small quantities, hand raised and cleansed, carefully cooked with selected quality ingredients and spices – grown in our own garden – then grilled to perfection. Few can boast this experience. In a restaurant they appear on a plate in front of you, no personal history attached, no memories to enrich the flavors. But back at that wooden table, magic happened that begs to be shared and so, may I present the recipe – not as a stand alone, but as an experience presented against the rich and elaborate fabric of its Swedish history. susanne cerha / January 2012






What you need To forage you need a container that is easy to carry. Snails weigh quite a bit. We used our wicker baskets, lined with newspaper for protection, the absence of lids of little concern; snails don’t move very fast. Another option would be plastic containers with lids punched with breathing holes. video: containers for snail foraging

When to go In 1980’s Sweden, there didn’t seem to be any wrong type of weather or wrong time of day to find snails at Rosersberg Palace. Typically we would venture out in August and early September. On overcast rainy days, my mother would take me to look for them. Happily, they were slithering all over the park, criss-crossing gravel paths, traversing lawns, and climbing tree trunks. On sunny days, the snails would pick a shady spot and retract in to their shells preserving moisture. Very often they would settle for the sleek trunks of the European beech trees in a planted grove right before the massive oak tree alley nearby the water. In summer the canopy prevents sunlight from reaching the forest floor, stifling the growth of many other trees and wildflowers. Beech leaves take a long time to decay. Few nutrients are released to nourish ground plants. Consequently, there is little undergrowth in a beech wood, presenting no hindrance to a snail hunter. They really made it too easy for us. The only time we would abstain from picking them was when we found them to be laying their eggs. Very often, to their misfortune, they seemed to favor the gravel path for ease of digging their egg chambers. The ones off to the side of the gravel roads would persist and survive, but he ones in the center often faced grim ends.



How many to pick If it is your first time, make it manageable. Pick them in quantities of 6. I suggest picking at least 24 – 36 the first time, or it will not be worth the effort. Smaller quantities can be processed indoors too. My mother and I often picked 200 – 300 at a time, which is quite labor intensive and requires outdoors space to manage.

Where to find them What better place to start than your own back yard? What many people don’t realize is that garden snails (Helix aspersa) and French escargots (Helix pomatia, or commonly called Petit Gris) are nearly the same thing (different species, same genus), and taste similar. The garden snail is native to the Mediterranean region, but has been spread deliberately and/ or accidentally by humans to all human-disturbed habitats in regions with a Mediterranean or temperate climate. Sourcing your food locally is beneficial for you and for the environment. Perhaps now is the time to take that mental leap and turn a ‘garden pest’ into haute cuisine?

What size is acceptable? Avoid smaller snails and go for snails that are 1.75 – 2 inches wide across the shell. Although prolific hermaphrodites, picking younger ones cut their reproductive time short and thus potentially diminishes their population. Perhaps more importantly, a bite size escargot is more desirable.


“When invited to your snail safari at Rosersberg Palace, naturally we said yes!” – thomas and marita moller, friends





Cleaning process

What is the meaning of this? The objective of the cleaning process is for the snails to purge themselves internally of any dirt, including potential toxins that may taste bad or be harmful to eat. It is also important to clean them externally for the same reasons. Traditionally, the snails fast for up to five days in white wooden boxes free of tannic acid. Many argue that fasting is an unnecessary cruelty, hence many variations of the traditional way has flourished. The snails’ appetite can be turned in to an asset that ultimately delivers a tastier end result. The cleaning process consists of 5 steps, and takes 8 days to complete. steps 1.





Killing and extraction


Removal of the hepatopancreas?


Preparing shells as food containers



Cleansing The guideline here is to remember that snails will eat and take on the flavor of everything they consume. Hence, you need to control what they consume for the next seven days. That can be tricky. They are escape artists. To make external cleaning easy, which is usually done with a garden hose, an elevated box with a grated bottom and chicken wire fencing top is recommended. How elaborate you are constructing this box is up to you. The elevated box method accomplishes several objectives; it drains water easily for when you hose the snails, and it removes the snails from the ground and puts you in control of what they consume. If the elevated box is too complex for you, using large cardboard boxes is an alternative. This is the method that was available to my mother back in the early 1980’s. She would place all 200 snails directly on the lawn and give them an initial hosing. Then she would place extra newspaper at the bottom of each box, and finally the hosed discombobulated snails. Cover the top with chicken wire fencing and place the boxes in the shade. During the course of the week, she would switch out the newspapers with fresh ones to keep the boxes manageably clean. Allow them room to roam, do not overfill the boxes. Remember, even stress affects the final flavor. video: an elevated box for cleansing snails


“Can this really be possible? Picking snails off the ground, putting them in a box and feed them flour? And then eat them?” – katrine wallberg, neighbor





“ I went to peek at them there in the box many times. It looked really suspicious. But I was curious.” – katrine wallberg, neighbor

Once the snails are hosed and placed in their box, it is time to put them on their delicious colon cleansing diet. My mother used lettuce for the first 3 days, which the snails will devour with much enthusiasm. The following 2 days would be a mix of lettuce and white flour, and the final 2 days flour only. The purpose of beginning with lettuce and ending with flour is this; lettuce provides good nutrition (and flavor to their meat) close to their normal diet in the wild. The flour fattens them up, and serves as an indicator for when their systems are completely clean. Yes, observe their excrements over the course of these seven days. When it has turned from greenish black to pure white, the snails are ripe and ready to go.


Although my mother used lettuce as the only plant food (it was cheap), it is worth mentioning that you can use other plant foods. You can ‘infuse’ them with a flavor of your liking. Clover, chicory, cabbage, carrot, celery, turnip rape, fennel, spinach… consider herbs like dill, parsley, oregano and thyme too.





Disgorgement By far, this is the grossest part of anything that has to do with snails. However, it is also completely necessary. Disgorgement means that we trigger the snails to release and rid them selves entirely of foam, or slime. Traditionally, salt has been widely used as a triggering agent. I will describe my mother’s process below, which differs a bit from the traditional way.

you will need

One or several large baths of cold water (to hold all snails)

One or several pots of boiling water (to hold all snails)

One or several buckets (to hold all snails)

Distilled white vinegar (1 cup vinegar/2 Liters of water)

A skimmer


the process Arrange the bath with cold water and spike it thoroughly with distilled white vinegar. Don’t be shy here. Too little will cause the snails prolonged pain, or worse, not lull them in to a deep sleep.


Pre-arrange a very large pot, or several large pots to fit all snails, with boiling water. Leave them simmering, ready to be fired up.


Give the snails a final hosing to get rid of most external dirt. Place them in buckets.


Gently, albeit quickly, fill the vinegar bath with snails. Gently ‘pour’ them in at one time so you can monitor how long they are in there. 5 to 10 minutes should suffice.

The vinegar bath has two effects; the snails expel foam and retract in to their shells, and fall into a deep (and merciful) sleep. There is more foam in them than you would ever expect. Skim it off periodically, so you can view and monitor the snails in the vinegar bath. Try to keep the vinegar bath clear of foam. Now turn up the heat under the pots with hot water.




“It trickled down along my arms. Slime everywhere.” – thomas moller, friend, on extraction

Killing and extraction Once they have all retracted – and be sure that they all have – a critical minute ensues. You have to drain the bath, and toss them in to the rapidly boiling water – before they wake up and come out of their shells. The removal of the vinegar water could potentially wake them up. And they will be in escape mode. To give them the fastest, and thus least painful death, it is imperative that the water be boiling.

Boil them for 10 minutes, just enough to kill them, Drain and rinse in cold water. Let cool off.

Discard any snails that woke up and began to come out. There is nothing more guilt ridden than your food looking at you. Finally pull them out by inserting the tip of a fork to the meat and gently twisting the snail out of its shell. You should now have a collection shells and a collection of disgorged cooked snails ready to be worked with.


”It smells bad. But it is worth it later.” – magdalena cerha

Removal of the hepatopancreas? My mother argues that the hepatopancreas filter toxins, and thus isn’t fit for human consumption. And it “stinks.” While she generally does prefer internal organs, such as liver and heart and even delicious bone marrow, somehow the thought of a tiny snail hepatopancreas in her dinner makes her find the time to remove them. The hepatopancreas is an organ of the snail’s (and all gastropod mollusk’s) digestive tract. It provides the functions, which in mammals are provided separately by the liver and pancreas. Since there are several edible snail species in various sizes, one can argue that it is unnecessary to remove the hepatopancreas in smaller species (such as the Petit Gris) simply because, well, they are smaller. With no measurable affect on the taste, it wouldn’t be worth the time to remove them. However, in larger species, commonly used to prepare escargots (such as Gros Gris), it may be preferable to remove them simply because, well, they are larger. In the end, it is all a matter of personal preference and taste. Many argue that it is the tastiest bit of the snail. However, should you want to remove it, simply snip off the top coil with your thumb. Done.





“I almost fainted, imagining the snail in my mouth… and so my escargot debut happened about 25 years later.” – annika wallberg, neighbor

Preparing shells as food containers You can of course buy clean shells in the stores these days. But that wouldn’t make half as good a story, nor be as sustainable as cleaning your own handpicked shells. By now, they should be almost 100 % clean; they have been hosed, soaked in a vinegar bath, cooked in boiling water and parted from their interior content. What remain is to boil, brush and rinse and dry them. We would always boil them again after extraction, because sometime small pieces of snail is still stuck in the shell and boiling would help loosen those parts up. Salt will help disinfecting them a final time.

you will need

1 6 – 8 Liter casserole

Small brushes, such as a nail or toothbrush



Paper towels

the process


Add all the empty shells to the casserole and fill it up with water to cover them.


Add a couple of tablespoons of salt, and then heat the water to boiling. Let the shells boil for 10 minutes, then drain them and let them cool off. Rinse them with cold water.


Then carefully go through each shell with a brush to make sure they are clean, both inside and out. Place them hole down on paper towels to dry them out.


Now they are ready to use.





Cooking and serving

Basic procedure There are many wonderful recipes for escargots, and they (mostly) follow the same steps: steps 1.

Make the court bouillon and bouquet garni


Cook the snails in the court bouillon


Make the herb butter


Assemble the herb butter and the cooked snails in shells


Place the stuffed shells on a ceramic snail plate and then grill them in the oven


Serve the snails

“What is a recipe? It is the sum of everything.” – magdalena cerha



“I never forgot the scent, the flavor, the herbs, the wine and the romantic landscape.” – magdalena cerha, on her stay in provence

Making court bouillon and bouquet garni The court bouillon is what makes or breaks the escargots. It is also the tool people from all over customize to make the escargot dish their own. Consider it your own secret potion. Over time, you will refine and perfect it to your taste buds, precisely like my mother has done. Court bouillon is French for ‘briefly boiled liquid’. Cooking time rarely exceeds 60 minutes. Although court bouillon can be used as a base for a stock, it is differentiated by the inclusion of acidulating ingredients such as wine, vinegar, or lemon juice. In addition to contributing their own flavor, acids help to draw flavors from the vegetable aromatics during the short preparation time. Court Bouillon is not served with the main dish, but act as a catalyst to add flavor. In other words, it is a flavored bath. My mother’s recipe is listed below, but there are many other herbs and vegetables that you may prefer; clove, anise, basil, chervil, rosemary, mint, carrot, parsnips… or try a wine from a region other than Burgundy if you will? tip

Use the same wine throughout the process, from cooking and preparation to serving.





court bouillon

This recipe can be halved or quartered as needed.

q: 200

you will need

1 bottle of good quality dry French white Burgundy wine

2 Liters of water

2 tablespoons butter

8 celery stalks, cut to 2 inch pieces

1 medium root celery, peeled and cut in to 1 inch cubes

4 carrots cut in to 2 inch pieces

1 large parsnip, cubed

10 shallots, quartered

1 whole garlic, peel the cloves

1 lemon, quartered 2 laurel leaves

1 teaspoon whole white pepper corns

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

bouquet garni

1 handful of fresh thyme twigs

1 handful of fresh parsley twigs

1 handful of fresh tarragon twigs

Cooking string to tie the bouquet with

the process


Melt the butter in a 6 – 8 Liter casserole. When it bubbles, add the shallots and let them soften for 5 minutes on medium heat.


Add the celery, root celery, carrots, parsnips, garlic, lemon, and laurel. Stir with a wooden spoon to cover with butter, then let it soften for another 5 – 10 minutes.


Turn up the heat. Add the water gently as you keep stirring. Follow with the white wine.


Add the white pepper corns and the bouquet garni. Keep the heat high until it boils, then turn the heat down and let the court bouillon simmer for 60 minutes.


Salt and pepper to taste.






“I knew Magdalena to be an amazing cook utilizing flavors and spices different from the Swedish home cooking I grew up with.” – katrine wallberg, neighbor

Cooking the snails Carefully fold the cleaned and briefly cooked snails into the simmering court bouillon. Let it simmer for 1 hour, lid off, until the court bouillon is quite reduced. Then place the snails in a colander to drain. Now the snails are ready for assembly. You can discard the court bouillon, along with the vegetables and the bouquet garni. Remember, it is not served with the main dish. tip

My mother doesn’t waste perfectly good food. Of course she would reduce the court bouillon to a stock and freeze it for later use. I highly recommend doing the same.




Making beurre d’escargot This recipe is for 12 escargots. You may multiply it to cover your needs. Any left over herb butter can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months. q: 12

you will need

6 tablespoons great quality butter, room temperature

1 tablespoon garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced

1 teaspoon shallot, finely minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, finely minced

¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

½ tablespoon white Bourgogne wine

1 teaspoon cognac

¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt

the process


Combine all the ingredients, except the butter, in a food processor and process until finely minced. Alternatively, you can pound the ingredients to a paste in a mortar.


In a large bowl, stir the butter soft.


Add the processed blend of herbs, shallots and spices. Stir until it is all well blended.

4. tip

Set aside until it is time to fill the shells. There is room for customizing here too. If you fancy unimaginable amounts of garlic (like I do) – go for it. Or if you prefer the finished herb butter to appear like a green smooth pesto, add twice the amount of parsley. Try adding some seeds of anise or anise liqueur (Anisette, Pastis, or Ouzo), or a strong grainy mustard (Maille).


“This is how I do it. Back in the 60’s some French ladies at a wine castle in Provence showed me.” – magdalena cerha





“Someone stole my French cook book. Or forgot to give it back.” – magdalena cerha

Assembly Now you have all the components to start up your escargot factory:

you will need

Clean empty shells

Snails cooked in court bouillon

Herb butter

you may also need



Freezing bags

Ceramic snail plates and utensils


the process Set up first by placing the cooked and cooled snails in a large bowl on the counter. Next the bowl with cleaned shells, then the bowl with herb butter, and finally freezing bags (or ceramic snail plates if you intend to grill snails right away).


Add a small amount of herb butter to the empty shell. Stuff the shell with one snail (or, if feeling extravagant, two).


Then cover the opening with 1 teaspoon of herb butter. Be gentle when stuffing – if you press the snails and the butter in too far, it may be hard to get them out. Set it aside and do the next one, until all shells are filled.




“The times that I have ordered escargots that lived up to that first experience are few.” – katrine wallberg, on magdalena's escargots


Freezing If you don’t plan to eat the escargots right away, freeze the filled (un-grilled) shells in bags of 6 – 12 shells. They last in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Grilling Frozen or freshly prepared escargots are placed on a ceramic snail plate.

Set the oven to 390 F. Grill them for 10 minutes high up in the oven, or just enough time to melt the butter. Serve immediately with great bread and wine.


Serving It is worth investing in a few white ovenproof ceramic snail plates. They hold the snail shells and the yummy herb butter in place, and add to a beautiful presentation. You may also want to get snail tongs. Not only can it require skill to muscle a snail out of its shell, but it will be singing hot too and impossible to hold on to. Enter the snail tong, a nifty tool that adds elegance and control to your dining experience. Finally, to complete the gear section, snail forks also come in handy. They are small enough to reach far in to that shell and pull out the waiting delicacy.






Wine pairing

French wines A less obvious way than serving red may be the most, well, obvious one – use the same dry white wine throughout cooking and serving. This may sound too simple to be serious, but it does offers a conceptual approach worth considering. When selecting a dry white Burgundy wine for your court bouillon, also select it with wine pairing in mind. Do not think cheap ‘cooking wine’. Think great flavor, minerality and character that will define your personal escargot journey. Humor yourself by doing an investigation in to the various Burgundy options available to you. What you pour in to your court bouillon you will also proudly and eagerly pour in to the wine glasses come dinner time. Other than conceptually tying the cooking process and the serving together, why serve a dry white? Because it will perfectly balance and melt the heavy richness and flavors held by the herb butter and infused snail flesh. Additionally, if you serve escargots as an appetizer, it may be a better-flowing culinary experience to start with a white, switch to a red and finish with a port? Just saying.

Local wines The white varietal grown in Burgundy is Chardonnay. ‘Chardonnay’ will likely not be listed on a French wine label, because in most regions of France, terroir is thought to surpass the impact of varietal (terroir is a term used to denote the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestowed upon particular varieties). Deciphering this is important should you prefer to source your dry white wine locally. Chardonnay is your grape. Having said that, there are differences such as terroir, fermentation and maturation methods (to name a few) between France and the US. Generally speaking, French Burgundy wines may possess more minerality, and US Chardonnay wines may taste more oaky.





French selections Generously provided by INSTAGRAM.COM/PAULWBOYER

chateau de la saule, montagny 1 er cru

s.c.e. domaine ramonet

Varietal: Chardonnay Appellation: Burgundy, France

Varietal: Chardonnay Appellation: Burgundy, France

The wine comes from a tiny town in southern Burgundy’s Cote Challonaise. Made in Stainless steel, the wine emphasizes minerality and delicious food-friendly acidity. Gentle crisp green apple notes and with an appealing chalky finish.

The basic Burgundy from one Burgundy’s undisputed masters is still head and shoulders above many more prestigious appellations. Notes of pear and flint, fairly dense while maintaining its elegance.


philippe colin, chassagne-montrachet

2009 domaine bernard moreau

Varietal: Chardonnay Appellation: Burgundy, France

Varietal: Chardonnay Appellation: Burgundy, France

Buttery, broad intense flavors with great persistence and length. Old school wine making at its best.

Chardonnay from the north of Macon in Burgundy. Green apple and crème brûlée. Rich, concentrated, fresh, and complex. An excellent bargain.




Italian selections


fontezoppa 10 verdicchio di matelica

2010 – scarbolo friulano

Varietal: Verdicchio Region: Marches, Italy Alternative: Vertis Verdicchio di Matelica

Varietal: Pinot Grigio Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy Alternative: Ronco dei Tassi Friulano

Fresh acidity, saline quality from growing near the ocean.

Round, touch of acidity.


la formica soave

otto soldi gavi

Varietal: Garganega Region: Veneto, Italy

Varietal: Cortese Region: Piedmonte, Italy Alternative: Martinetti Gavi ($25)

Round, fruity.

Round, earthy/mushroomy.



Artwork and original recipe: Graphic design: Photography: Location: Rosersberg Palace, Sweden Wine: / / ©2023 Silo Design Inc. All rights reserved. Paintings and images thereof displayed in this book are the intellectual and private property of Magdalena Cerha. Reproduction by permission only.


Charles XIV John of Sweden (Karl 14e Johan) (Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte) Porcini (Boletus edulis) Escargot (Vinbergssnäcka) (Helix pomatia) Snail Cultivation (Heliciculture) National Agricultural Library


©2023 Silo Design Inc. All rights reserved. Paintings and images thereof displayed in this book are the intellectual and private property of Magdalena Cerha. Reproduction by permission only.

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