Monday, August 20, 2012

Culinary Adventure Series: Sea Snails

Hanging out at the tidepools is easily one of our favorite things to do in Wollongong.  Just two blocks away, it's a quick outing that never disappoints.  I'm not sure how it's possible, but we manage to see new and interesting creatures every single time we're there--and we go a lot.

During yesterday's outing, Jackson spotted a large, beautiful shell that was still home to a creature.

When we found the second one, a different shell but still really large, my first thought was--dinner!

Wait, that wouldn't be your first thought??

Three events occurred immediately after I shared this brilliant idea with my family:

  1. I began Googling sea snail recipes
  2. Jackson, my little adventurous foodie, asked if he could help me prepare the meal.  (I love him.)
  3. Alex, stonefaced, declared that he would not be ingesting any sea snails.  (I love him.)

We had two good-sized sea snails (that I not-so-scientifically identified as a turban snail and a whelk in hopes of avoiding the myriad poisonous creatures that inhabit Australia's seas).  Jackson and I stocked up on smaller snails to make sure we had enough meat to work with and then headed home, bucket heavy with our bounty.

After giving them a hearty rinsing in fresh water, I steamed the shells for 1.5 hours.

Then, using a skewer, we pried open each little protective foot, and carefully slid the creatures out.
Jackson holding an extracted sea snail
Up close, these snails are amazing--each one had a beautiful black and white spiral pattern on one of its curves; I did a poor job of capturing it below, but you can somewhat see it on the lower righthand portion of the body.

I decided to make a conch fritter-esque meal out of the snails, because I figured the addition of other ingredients would help make it more palatable for my reluctant Al Pal.  After a lot of labor prying, rinsing, trimming, and chopping, I had a bowl of freshly steamed sea snail meat.

I chopped onion, green bell pepper (or 'capsicum' as they call it here), celery, and garlic and added it to the meat.

I then made a batter out of a cup of flour, a 1/2 tsp baking powder, pinch of salt and pepper, some paprika and oregano, a half cup of milk, and half a beer--and added my chopped mixture to the batter.

Then I heated some oil in a pan, plunked down some of my concoction, and fried it for a couple of minutes on each side until they were golden brown.  Paired with a green salad (and the rest of the beer for me), and dinner was served!

As I set dinner down on the table, I thought about how surprising it was that Sam was so game to eat my little culinary experiment.  He and ocean animals have a checkered past--he loves sushi, but he may or may not have an allergy to shellfish.  One summer in Maine while we were dating, he partook in my family's usual lobster-and-steamer feast and ended up spending the night huddled on the floor in the hallway outside the bathroom in between lengthy spells of vomiting and diarrhea.  He was right as rain in the morning, and even spent the day with me canoeing on the Saco River--but during future trips to Maine he has always avoided the lobsterfest. Although snails are different than bivalves, I was a teensy bit nervous that my sea-foraged meal would make him (or all of us) sick.

The Verdict

Sam: He ate three fritters and even said he'd like to take the leftovers to work in the morning.

Jackson: He ate three fritters and scrounged some more off his brother's plates.

Me: I thought they tasted great!  The smaller snails aren't worth it for the labor-to-meat yield ratio, so I'd only harvest sea snails again if I could find four of the larger ones.

For the less enthusiastic family members, this may have been more of a character building experience than a culinary experience.  I asked their thoughts on the meal...

Alex: "On a scale of one to ten, I'd rate it a one." (but he ate half a fritter!)
Alex 'enjoying' his first taste of snail fritter

Kenyon: "Disgusting. I only liked the salad; nothing else." (he also ate half a fritter!)
Since he was actually trying the fritter, I figured that wasn't the best time to tell him to cut his food and use proper table manners...
Overall, I'm calling it a success (and as of the time of this writing, everyone's stomachs feel normal...crossing fingers...).


  1. Great article thank you. I've also tried them. The kids weren't as keen but the adults were. I did a write up here -
    I'll be sure to give this recipe a try!