Snails in a Ramekin with Ham

I will not go into the last time I decided to eat snails that I had gathered from the wild instead of from a can (in a typically mad twist, Richard Olney gave me an old plastic toilet to store and clean them in), but do read about the hilarious wild snail experience of Clémentine in Clémentine in the Kitchen by Samuel Chamberlain, now republished by the Modern Library. It is no exaggeration.

And despite the experiences I had and the one in that book, I still adore snails. Having a can or two around at all times lets you make a perfect last-minute dish. The canned ones are very good if you give them a bath, an essential (but usually ignored) initial step of preparation for good-tasting canned snails. If you like snails, give them this bath and store them in sealed jars in the refrigerator. If you put them in ramekins with finely chopped garlic, chopped parsley, and some olive oil or butter, you are only fifteen minutes away from a delicious snack.

For New Year’s in 1984, we grilled snails on skewers, then took them off and put them on fresh artichoke bottoms stewed in butter and placed them on top of grilled fresh cèpes. The sauce was a fresh herb hollandaise accented with red bell pepper puree mounted with butter. That was a bit over the top, and I think my first way of using canned snails (this ramekin recipe) is better, and I have never grown tired of it.

Use ramekins 3 inches in diameter and about 2 inches deep.

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Ingredients

The Bath

  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 shallots, peeled, chopped
  • ¼ cup ham scraps
  • ½ cup mixed fresh herbs (thyme, tarragon, chives, and parsley)

The Dish

  • 24 snails
  • 1 tablespoon chopped freshshallots
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons dry white wine
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 4 fresh white mushrooms, chopped in -inch dice
  • 4 tablespoons chopped ham
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 4 rounds white bread, ½-inch thick, cut from center of slice to fit in ramekin

Method

Simmer the bath ingredients for 30 minutes and strain, saving the liquid. Rinse the snails in cold water and drain. Put the snails in the bath while it is still hot and leave them to soak for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the shallots, butter, and tarragon in a pan, and cover; sweat for 5 minutes. Do not brown. Add the wine, chicken stock, and mushrooms and simmer 5 minutes. Mix in the ham and snails.

Divide the snails and the juices amongst the ramekins. Butter the bread rounds and put them buttered side up on top of the snails. The bread should fit flush with the inside top of the ramekin.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the bread is golden and the snails hot.

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