How to Clean and Prepare Snails for Cooking

Cooking Snails -- How to Clean Them First

escargot
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​Greece boasts about 700 different species of snails throughout the entire country, and garden snails are a specialty on the Greek island of Crete where they're traditionally enjoyed in huge quantities in August.

There's a lot to like about them. They're healthy, nutritious and delicious. They're low in both carbohydrates and fat, and an old wives' tale even credits them with battling depression.  

From French escargot recipes to Greek favorites like bourbouristi — "popping fried snails" — the snails have to be cleaned and prepared before cooking. Here's how to do it. 

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 30 minutes for 50 snails

What You'll Need:

  • Large pot or pan
  • Sharp knife
  • 50 snails

Here's How:

  1. Use a sharp knife to remove the membrane covering the opening in the shell.
  2. Put the snails in a large pot or pan and fill it with plenty of fresh water.
  3. Discard any snails that float to the top. 
  4. Take two to three snails in your hands at one time and rub them with your fingers. Set them aside and continue on with two or three more, working your way through the entire batch.  
  5. Throw out the water after the snails have been cleaned once this way. Refill the pot with fresh clean water and repeat the process. 
  6. Rinse the snails well and use them in your favorite recipe.

A Word About Really Fresh Snails 

Depending on where you purchased the snails, they might have been cultivated for sale, fed a special diet of grape leaves or something similar.

This is good because, unfortunately, their preferred diet in nature isn't one that always agrees with the human digestive system. If you bought a fresh catch rather than a batch from a seafood market, ask the seller when they were harvested so you have an idea of when the snails last ate. 

Snails that are at least a week from the water are usually safe.

Otherwise, you'll effectively have to starve them for as long as seven to 10 days. Alternatively, you can feed them something that agrees with humans to move the toxic old food out of their systems, such as pieces of lettuce, apple, flour or bran — or grape leaves. Your goal is to get all traces of their natural diets out of them before you cook and eat them. When snails are sold commercially, they're usually placed in a net and hung from the ceiling or rafters so this process can be accomplished.

After sufficient time has passed, place the snails in a pot of cold water with some salt and a touch of vinegar. Their waste will leave them, then you can proceed with the cleaning steps above. 

Admittedly, this isn't a task for someone with a delicate stomach or a fondness for all animals whether they wear shells or fur. But you can skip this step of preparation unless you've harvested your own snails or bought them right off the boat.