Stalking the Elusive Grilled Snail

Serves: 5



Barbecue lends itself to obsession. If you’re afflicted with an obsessive personality like me and you start to delve into the world of barbecue, you may soon find all your spare time literally going up in smoke. The truth is well known to the legions of barbecue "widows" who have lost their husbands to barbecue contests and smoke fests. This truth became apparent during a 10-day swing through the south of France to study the elusive art of French grilling.

Barbara (my wife) and I had been on the road for about a week, and this being Sunday, it was to be our first night "off" (without any special dining plans). Then I made the fatal mistake of calling French culinary authority Patricia Wells, who told me about grilled snails.

Grilled snails are the specialty of a restaurant called L’Hostal in the hamlet of Castellnou near Perpignan in southwestern France. The problem was that we were in Arles (the Provençal town immortalized by Van Gogh), some 400 miles away.

A call to the restaurant confirmed that yes, they had grilled snails. Yes, I could order them for this evening. No, the restaurant would not be open Monday or Tuesday. Yes, it was too bad we were leaving France on Wednesday. Yes, if we wanted grilled snails, we’d have to eat them that night.

I did some quick calculations. If we left our hotel in 10 minutes and drove a hundred miles an hour, we could be in Castellnou by sundown. I turned to Barbara and said, "I’ve just found a place that serves grilled snails."

"Great," she said. "Let’s go."

"There’s only one problem," I said. "The restaurant is near the Spanish border."

Luckily, when it comes to barbecue, my wife is nearly as obsessive as I am.

True to my calculations, we arrived in Castellnou four hours later, having averaged a hundred miles an hour on the autoroute. The last six miles took us up a steep, winding road to a perfectly restored medieval citadel. We found L’Hostal without much trouble (it being the only restaurant in town). Still vibrating from the drive, we took our seats on a cliffside terrace with a dizzying, dazzling view of the Roussillon Valley.

In the summer, L’Hostal does its grilling in a huge outdoor fireplace. In the winter, the operations are moved to the manorial hearth in the low-ceilinged dining room. The favored fuel here is vine trimmings, branches for delicate fare, like snails, vine stalks and roots for large cuts of meat. When we arrived sure enough, and sure enough, four dozen tiny snails were sizzling away on a circular wire grill over blazing vine trimmings.

With tolls, gas, and a place to stay for the evening, the trip to Castellnou cost $400. Which makes this one of the most expensive dishes of escargots I’ve ever eaten. It was worth the drive-and the money-for I’ve never seen grilled escargot anywhere else.

In one sense, neither you nor I will ever be able to reproduce this recipe at home. We probably can’t get the tiny, succulent escargots known locally as petits gris ("little grays"). We certainly can’t buy them live or feed them on fresh thyme in special cages in our basements. We can’t buy snail grills, although a vegetable grate or round cake rack perched on a couple of bricks will work in a pinch.

Ultimately, we will never be able to duplicate the texture and flavor of L’Hostal’s grilled snails: the former being soft, moist, even a little "drooly" (baveuse in French), the latter being pungent, salty, aromatic, with overtones of thyme and even curry.

But I love a challenge. So, although we may not be able to duplicate the dish, I’ve come up with a recipe for highly delicious grilled snails inspired by L’Hostal’s preparation (see the facing page). As for the grill, well, Barbara is still wondering what happened to our cake rack.

This Stalking the Elusive Grilled Snail recipe is from the The Barbecue Bible Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

More Recipes from the The Barbecue Bible Cookbook:
A Day with Najmieh Batmanglij: The Persian Grill
A Few Shark and Bake Tips
A Griller's Guide to the World's Chiles
A Marinating Tip
A New French Paradox
A Special Word About Ground Meat, Burgers, and Sausages
A Traditional Barbacoa
Aleppo Pepper
Approximate Times for Rotisserie Cooking
Barbecue Alley: The Mexican Grill
Barbecue Countdown
Barbecue from the Land of Morning Calm:
Basmati Rice Five Ways
Beef Grilling Chart *
Black Gold
Bombay Tikka "Taco"
Butterflying a Flank Steak
Cleaning and Oiling the Grill
Cooking Hamburgers
Cooking With a Blowtorch
Cooking with Wood
Fish Grilling Chart*
From Hamburg to Hoboken: A Brief History of the Hambuger
Grate Expectations: Some Tips on Grilling Vegetables
Grating Citrus Peel
Grilled Rujak
Grilling Indoors
Grinding It Out
Ground Meats Grilling Chart
Hawkers' Center
How to Butterfly Pork or Beef
How to Butterfly Short Ribs for Korean-Style Grilling
How to Cut Up a Chicken
How to Dry Fennel Stalks
How to Grill Perfect Chicken
How to Grill Perfect Chicken Halves and Quarters
How to Grill Perfect Fish Fillets
How to Grill Perfect Vegetables Every Time
How to Grill a Whole Grilled Fish
How to Grill the Perfect Fish
How to Grill the Perfect Whole Chiken
How to Grill the Perfect Whole Fish
How to Make Scallion Brushes
How to Peel and Devein Shrimp
How to Skin and Bone Fish Fillets
How to Spatchcock a Chicken or Game Hen
How to Stuff Sausages Like a Pro
How to Unskewer Shish Kebabs
How to grill a perfect steak
How to grill with out a grate
How to make ricw powder
How to prepare fresh coconut
How to rinse and dry Cilantro
How to rinse salad greens
How to toast seeds, nuts, and breadcrumbs
In pursuit of the best Tuscan Steak
Jerk: The Jamaican Barbecue
Lamb Grilling Chart
Larding the Beef
Making crosshatch grill marks
Matambre: A hunger-killer from South America
Mesclun Mix
Of Koftas, Lyulas, and Seekh
On trimming fat from meat
Pit Cooking
Pork Grilling Chart
Pork the Italian Way
Poultry Grilling Chart*
Shellfish Grilling Chart*
Stalking the Elusive Grilled Snail
Stuck on Sate: The Indonesian Grill
The Afghan Grill
The Argentinian Grill
The Birth of the Kettle
The Brazilian Grill
The Four Styles of American Barbecue
The Indian Grill
The Japanese Grill
The Macanese Grill
The Moroccan Grill
The Most Famous Fish House in Indonesia
The Splendid Resaurant Karim
The Tale of Three Barbecues: The Thai Grill
The Ten Commandments of Perfect Grilling
The Turkish Grill
The Vietnamese Grill
To Render Chicken Fat
Types of Charcoal
Uruguay's Mercado Del Puerto
Vegetable Grilling Chart*
What to look for in a Grill
When You’re Feeling Less Than Brave
When to cover the Grill
When to use a Drip Pan
Whole Fish, Tikin Xik Style

"I must say this is the best recipe software I have ever owned."

"Your DVO cookbook software saves me time and money!"
-Mary Ann

"Call it nutrition software, meal planning software, cooking software, recipe manager, or whatever you want. It is the software I use to stay healthy!"

"Your software is the best recipe organizer and menu planner out there!"

"Thank you so very much for creating such a wonderful cooking recipe program. I think this is the best recipe program there is!"

"I saw lots of recipe software for PC computers but I was having a hard time finding really good mac recipe software. I'm so glad I discovered Cook'n! It's so nice to have all my recipes in a computer recipe organizer. Cook'n has saved me so much time with meal planning and the recipe nutrition calculator is amazing!!!

My favorite is the Cook'n Recipe App.