During the late Republic and the Empire, the Romans loved eating snails. Fluvius Hirpinus has been credited with making snails a popular dish shortly before the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey (49 BC). While the common people might eat snails gathered in a garden, the elite ate snails raised in special enclosures called choclearia and carefully fattened.
Some were fattened with sapa, the honey-like liquid produced by boiling freshly pressed grape juice to reduce it to one third the original volume. The sapa was mixed with flour before feeding to the snails.
Others were fattened with milk, as in the following recipe from Apicius.
Milk-Fed Snails (Cochleas Lacte Pastas)
Sponge the snails. Pull them out of the shells by the membrane and put them in a shallow vessel with milk and salt. (Keep the milk depth shallow enough you don’t drown the snails.) Replace the milk daily. Clean the snails of refuse hourly. Milk porridge can be used instead of milk.
When they are so fat they can’t withdraw into their shells, fry them in oil.
Serve with wine sauce. (Apicius calls for wine sauce, but other sauces can be substituted, as desired)
Snails Another Way (Aliter)
Fry snails with salt and oil. Serve with a sauce of laser*, broth, pepper, and oil or cover with broth, pepper, and cumin.
*Laser (also called laserpicium, or lasarpicium) is the resin from the silphium plant. It is believed to have been a type of giant fennel, probably extinct. Genuine laser was very expensive. A cheaper substitute that is still available for today’s cooks is asafoetida. Although the raw resin has a fetid (stinking) odor, it has a pleasant flavor after cooking that reminds one of leeks.
Another Way for Snails (Aliter Cochleas)
Sprinkle live snails with milk mixed with the finest wheat flour.
When “fat and nice and plump,” cook them.
Apicius. Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. Edited and translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1977.
Soyer, Alexis. Food, Cookery, and Dining in Ancient Times: Alexis Soyer’s Pantropheon. Mineola NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004.