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Jul 18, 2011 02:36 PM

Fresh or live snails for escargot?

Hi all,

We ate the best escargot ever at this restaurant in Boston:

They were tasty and big, ~1" long and the width of my index finger, and you got 6 for $9.50.

I've been wanting to make this dish at home for a while, but I read mixed reviews about the canned variety. I learned that Paris Grocery on Western Ave carries frozen precooked ones in garlic butter at 12 for $13:

I know how and what you need to do to purge, gut, clean, and cook them, so I'm not put off by the squeamish factor. The thing is, can I get them locally?


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  1. Here's an old thread on the subject. Don't know if things have changed since 2006. Aggressive snails? Perhaps you'd best stick to the local garden variety.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Jeri L

      The local garden variety just isn't worth it. And they don't taste quite the same - like mushrooms, but just not enough meat.

      1. re: foodAdenturous

        Every garden here has lots of snail relatives (slugs) for free.
        Though I do not know how to clean or cook them I expect the advice for snails might work...

        1. re: mrnelso

          I've done the research and tried with slugs. It's a lot of work, and they don't taste as good, not bad, just not as good. They taste like mushrooms.

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. there are two types of snails roaming the US. The ones I have been most successful in finding in the wild on the West Coast are the petite gris which are the same sort you find in Italy and Spain and sometimes in France. While I have successfully gathered them "other places," I have never seen them in the Seattle area......

        8 Replies
        1. re: jenn

          Where did you find them on the West Coast?

          1. re: foodAdenturous

            my dear foodAdventurous, I want to tell you, really I do. Alas, it was a slow food convivium event and I was sworn to secrecy......

            of course, if you were to search for me on this website going back a few years, you might be able to figure it out. . . .

          2. re: jenn

            Vietnamese grocers sell periwinkles by the gallon. Maybe saltier, but are those close enough?

            1. re: PeteSeattle

              Thanks, Pete. Periwinkles are much smaller, so I would not cook them the same way. However, they are also a Cantonese dish and is one of my favorites.

              I've also been looking for these, but would cook them differently by stir-frying them in-the-shell with black bean and garlic sauce with scallions. Did you see them at a specific Vietnamese grocery? I can check Viet-Wah in Renton the next time I'm there.

              1. re: foodAdenturous

                I usually see them at the Viet-Wah's sister store on MLK at Graham, where I shop all the time. They also have an abundant supply of whelks.
                I have always loved periwinkles and whelks, but it never occured to me to actually eat them. I'm glad they can be eaten. They're certainly common!

                I saw in The Joy of Cooking what's required to make locally caught wild land snails safe, edible and tasty, and I'll report it.

                You have to catch the live snails, and feed them hand-washed lettuce leaves for two weeks, changing the lettuce leaves every day. Otherwise they'll taste like what they've been eating before. You also get the chance to flush out parasitic infestations that the wild snails have endemic in the US.

                Viet Wah also sells frozen giant cockroaches, each as long as your hand. I wonder what those are like? The only bugs I've eaten on purpose are lightning bugs (East Coast) and they're bitter. But they make your teeth glow green in the dark.

                1. re: PeteSeattle

                  Yes, it's important to purge snails and slugs before you cook them, and you should always cook them well. You should also gut slugs before cooking them, so that the bitterness of the organs don't carry over. I don't know if you do the same for snails, but I don't think you do for periwinkles.

                  Oh, I've been very curious about insects. I just haven't gotten around to trying them, and I'm not quite sure where to begin other than this mail order place, though I'm not quite willing to pay the shipping yet:


                  It's all in the name of curiosity, an adventurous palate, and the willingness to expand my experiences should I ever find myself ever having to eat unexpected foods.

                  1. re: foodAdenturous

                    Viet Wah on MLK sells frozen cockroaches six inches long in a packet of four. I also saw them at Saar's on Rainier Ave S and S Henderson recently.

                    At Saar's I also saw a much more substantial bag of something that was labeled in English as a kind of root or rhizome, but was clearly a pupa or grub. That bag of frozen bugs must weigh a half pound! (It's probably good) Each grub is big enough to not fit on my typewriter keys, except for the shift and enter keys, which can hold them comfortably.

                    I've thought about feeding them to my finches instead of mealworms, but haven't tried it since when I tried giving them shrimp (which are sea bugs) they gave me the avian version of a dirty look.

                    You might try mealworms, easily available in pet shops, or wax worm (bigger) or silkworms. Those were originally raised for food, and the thread was accidently discovered when a lady dropped one in her tea, and when she tried to pull it out with her chopsticks it just kept unwinding. (Story has the ring of truth about it)

              2. re: PeteSeattle

                Periwinkles might be a substatute for the spanish/catalunyan versions of snails but not for the classic french with garlic butter. For the french version, you are removing the snails from the shell then restuffing the shell with the snail and with the parsley garlic butter.

                For the other recipes--which is the way I have prepared them--the snails are cooked in a broth with tomato, peppers, onions, mint etc and then to serve you either suck them out of the shell or pull them with a toothpick.

            2. Just go with the frozen ones.

              The canned ones are mushy and, well, *canned*, and cleaning the fresh ones yourself is a PITA and not worth it, no matter how good they turn out. It's not difficult, and I'm not put off by it, but it's just wayyy more screwing around than I'm willing to do.

              I know a lot of people in France who know *how* to purge and clean them, but not a single one of them who's willing to do it -- everybody buys them pre-prepared.

              12 Replies
              1. re: sunshine842

                The French use pre-prepared as in "frozen", not canned, right?

                1. re: foodAdenturous

                  Frozen or refrigerated, yes -- I've seen cans on the shelf, but never seen anyone take one down!

                2. re: sunshine842

                  sunshine842, I must disagree.

                  If you are talking about the preparation of snails with garlic butter, then yes I imagine most people don't make their own. Its too easy in places like Paris to find lovely stores that sell you prepared snails for reheating and consumption or you can find them in the markets. In both cases, they are sold by the dozen based on the size.

                  But that is not the only method of preparing snails, not even in France. And I would add that in my experience, canned/frozen things in France are way different than in the US and of much higher quality. I would imagine that people who want to make, say escargot in creme sauce with lardons, will probably resort to the canned variety.

                  The thing is snails are not something you pick off the garden walk and then stick in a cage. You have to go somewhere to gather them---you know just like you do an excursion to the country to pick berries or hunt for mushrooms. And I know it because I work with someone who has donw it while visiting relatives in France who don't live in Paris.

                  Plus people have to do the prep in order to prepare other snail dishes. Snails are not just a vehicle for garlic butter. Sometimes there is tomato sauce involved!

                  1. re: jenn

                    Please re-read my statement:

                    "The canned ones are mushy and, well, *canned*" -- that's my opinion, and that doesn't change, regardless of whether the can came from France or the US or Mars.

                    Preparing them yourself "is wayyy more screwing around than I'm willing to do." Again -- fact. It takes a couple of weeks and a lot of futzing around, and while I love escargot, I don't love 'em THAT much.

                    "I know lots of people who know *how* to purge and clean them, but not a single one of them who's willing to do it -- everybody buys them prepared."

                    This is a statement regarding the circle of people in France that *I* know -- most of whom are French and fiercely proud of their patrimoine. Not a damned one is willing to clean their own snails.

                    And no, I've never seen anyone buying a can of snails any time in the 15 years I've been shopping in France. Somebody must buy them, or they wouldn't still be on the shelf -- but I've never seen one in anyone's shopping basket, have never seen a depleted shelf, and have never even seen an empty tin rolling down the street somewhere. Again...never made any charade of that applying to anyone else -- I said *I* have never seen it.

                    Nowhere did I say that garlic butter is the only way to prepare them.
                    Nowhere did I make a generalization of French people as a whole.

                    Sorry, don't care if you disagree with me -- I stand behind everything I said.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Alas, as I probably won't have an easily accessible chance to gather my own, though I've had some people offer, they're not "in season", I will get myself down to Paris Grocery for some escargot prepared the traditional way.

                      I will also check out Viet-Wah for periwinkles to cook the Cantonese way. :)

                      1. re: foodAdenturous

                        So, just how do you cook periwinkles the Cantonese way? Now I'm curious!

                        1. re: PeteSeattle

                          As I mentioned above, I would cook them by stir-frying them in-the-shell with black bean and garlic sauce with scallions. There's plenty of recipes online and try YouTube.

                          Some Chinese restaurants serve this too.

                          1. re: foodAdenturous

                            Well, I was all set to try them, then I read that when you pop them out of the shells, you need a pin because they're tiny, and you have to watch out for the operculum. That's also a problem with giant land snails, as well.
                            That website convinced me it's really not worth the trouble and expense of finding out.
                            You see, most animals on our normal "do not eat" list aren't actually poisonous or nasty tasting, they're too much trouble to be worth eating.
                            Crawfish come close. I've gone to Crawfish boil parties in Louisiana, and they bring out bushels of crawdads for the crowd and boil them in a turkey fryer.
                            Since they have beer and corn on the cob and nice company, it's easy to spend four hours there popping crawdads and swilling beer and having a good time.
                            Only trouble is that after four hours of eating crawfish steadily, you're not full, you're simply tired of eating!

                            1. re: PeteSeattle

                              some species of escargot have an operculum, as well -- you take them off when you clean them.

                              Conch, the giant escargot of the Caribbean, have an operculum shaped like a big hook. They use it for locomotion and for defense. One of the nastiest wounds I've seen was a guy who didn't realize that conch can move faster than he thought they would. Stabbed him right in the hand -- not fatal with prompt first aid, but nasty and painful.

                              1. re: PeteSeattle

                                I think the operculum loosen up quite a bit when you cook them, at least, they come off quite easily when I've eaten them. You also just use a toothpick, stick it in the shell, and drag out the meat.

                                I don't mind working a little for my food, and it makes me appreciate it all the more. I'd definitely eat periwinkles over blue crab, and I do enjoy crawfish too, especially over grits or etouffee-style. I find them very tasty, so it's not so much to ask for me to work for it.

                                1. re: foodAdenturous

                                  Are periwinkles the same as "sea snails"? I saw them at 99 Ranch in Edmonds today for $3.99/lb...