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What to do with... Snails

Snails prepared Italian-style | PHOTO BY DAVID HAMMOND

Snails, prepared Italian-style | PHOTO BY DAVID HAMMOND

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Updated: October 12, 2013 6:01AM

About 20 years ago, a friend and I were having dinner in a Hyde Park restaurant. Some young women were sitting nearby, and we started talking. One mentioned, “I just love escargots.”

“Oh really,” I said. “You like snails?”

“No,” she replied, indignantly. “Not snails. Escargots!”

The snail industry undoubtedly gets a major marketing boost from the French name “escargot,” which seems to distract from the reality that these delicious and relatively expensive gastropods are related to the slimy things that crawl along aquarium walls.

But the French don’t have a corner on the escargot market. Snails are enjoyed all over the world.

Last Easter at Palazzo Donati in Italy’s Marche region, we enjoyed snails done in light tomato sauce with fresh herbs; in Morocco, noshing our way around the centuries-old Plaza of Death, we had snails in a clear broth, with herbs. In both dishes, garlic figured prominently.

Paul Kahan, the chef behind Blackbird and several other Chicago restaurants, told me, “I prepare snails traditionally, with garlic and bay leaf. They’re a very strong ingredient, very earthy.”

Because of that strength and earthiness, snails pair well with aggressive flavors like garlic. At home, we also prefer snails prepared “traditionally,” more or less in the French mode of seasoning, but ladled over pasta, a nod to the Italians who also love these little fellows.

1. Melt 1 stick butter; saute three 3 to 4 garlic segments and 1/3 cup chopped parsley

2. Add 1 can of pre-cooked medium-sized Maison de L’Escargot wild Burgundian snails

3. Warm snails gently and pour everything over pasta

—David Hammond

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