How to Clean and Prepare Fresh Snails for Cooking

escargot on a plate

skeez / pixabay

From French escargot recipes to Greek favorites like bourbouristi (popping fried snails), all recipes involving fresh snails require the primary ingredient to be cleaned and prepared for cooking. Fortunately, cleaning fresh snails for cooking is a relatively simple process.

Although snails are typically associated with France, Greece boasts about 700 different species of snails throughout the entire country and love eating them! In fact, on the first Saturday of every August, the town of Vlaheronitisa on the Greek island of Crete holds a Snail Festival where residents and visitors alike can eat as many of the local garden snails as they desire.

No matter what species of snails you're eating, though, there's a lot to like about them—they're healthy, nutritious, and delicious, low in both carbohydrates and fat, and are even considered by some to be an aphrodisiac and antidepressant.

A Word About Newly Fresh Snails 

Depending on where you purchased the snails, they might have been cultivated for sale or fed a special diet of grape leaves, which is good because their preferred diet in nature doesn't always agree 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, but 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, bran, or grape leaves—your goal is to get all traces of their natural diets out of them before you cook and eat them.

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

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. 

how to cook snails
The Spruce Eats / Chelsea Damraksa 

How to Properly Prepare Fresh Snails

You'll need about 30 minutes to clean and prepare 50 snails for cooking, which should be enough to serve eight to 12 people depending on which snail recipe you make. All you'll need to get started though is a large pot or pan, a sharp knife, and 50 snails, then follow these simple steps:

  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.
  7. Enjoy them in your favorite recipe!