Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cantonese Wok Snails In Black Bean Sauce...


Wok-fried snails were always a treat growing up! My siblings and I would hang out at the seafood section of a Chinese supermarket staring at the multiple fish, crustacean and mollusk-filled aquariums while mom and dad carefully selected from the fresh sea treasures for dinner. Snails were our favourite-- a must in black bean-style! The sounds of swoosh, clang and klunk as my mom stir-fries hundreds of shells with her flat metal spatula in her time-worned seasoned carbon steel wok, beckons the appetites until the noise ceases. The final few clangs are the snails being dished up and our queue to head to the table ready to devour. Little mounds of discarded shells dot each place setting at the table from sucking and plucking out its meat with toothpicks.

I will never forget the story of my dad collecting small rocks on the shorelines in China as a kid. When food was scarce, food was stretched, and rocks were used as standby snail shells. Tossed in a wok with garlic and black bean sauce, the sauce was sucked off the rocks in pretend and enjoyed with a bowl of steam rice. Times were tough and I feel fortunate I didn't endure this kind of hardship. I am reminded of my dad's very story every time I go to town on snails. Fairly inexpensive at ~$2.99/lb., three pounds gets you a lot to go around for a family or a group of friends to savour at leisure and pleasure. Just don't forget the beer like I did...


Snails are often sold in enclosed net bags submerged in water at Asian supermarkets. Pick up a bag up and smell it. It should be relatively neutral or has a slight salty sea aroma. At home, empty the bag into a large bowl of cold water, toss snails with your hand to remove any grime and grit, and pour out the water. Do this a few times, and get ready for the individual sniff test. You want to locate the dead and rotten ones otherwise, just a few will spoil the aroma and flavours of your final dish. Once the bad snails are discarded, throw some salt into the snails with cold water and toss to clean. Pour out the water. Do this a few times until the water runs clear and the batch smells clean. Drain well.

Cook's Note: If not using right away, keep snails in fridge covered in a bowl with clean water. Wash and rinse with salt just before cooking.


Cantonese Wok Snails In Black Bean Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

3 lbs. small freshwater snails in shell
2 Tbsp. canola oil

4-5 slices ginger
4 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. chili bean sauce (or your favourite chili hot sauce)- optional
3 Tbsp. black bean sauce (I used Lee Kum Kee)
1/2 cup Shaoxing rice or Chinese cooking wine
3 Tbsp. water
dash of white pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
Soy sauce to taste


This snail is planning his escape

Heat the oil over medium-high in a wok or large skillet; add the ginger and green onions, then sauté for a minute until aromatic. Add the garlic, chili sauce (if using) and black bean sauce. Let simmer for thirty seconds, and add the cooking wine. Toss in the snails. Add water, season with pepper and sugar. Taste the sauce and add soy sauce if needed. Stir-fry the snails for a minute and close the lid to steam for about two to four minutes. Add the cornstarch, toss snails as sauce begins to thicken. Remove snails onto plate. Serve with pointy wooden toothpicks at the table.


 The combo aromatics of ginger, onions, garlic and black bean sauce is heavenly.


I made mine less saucy as it would make handling that much more messy with the kids. If you prefer it saucier, increase your liquids-- cooking wine and water and adjust seasonings to taste.


Pointy wooden toothpicks are long and sturdy to dig and impale the cooked snail.


Snails are not foreign to my kids, in fact they love my Snails in Garlic Butter (Escargots au beurre d'ail), using prepared larger snail meat. This was the first time they DIY. They enjoyed getting hands-on and found the experience fun when they successful pulled out a twirly tailed snail :D. For my husband and I, we were missing the beer. Would've been such a perfect match! To eat, pick up a snail, remove its door (round black flap that covers the hole), suck and pluck.



A little bit of deelish childhood family table nostalgia I am happy to continue to savour with mine :)





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