Stuffed Snails Steamed with Lemongrass (Oc Nhoi Hap La Sa)

Yum
  • Preparation: 25 mins
  • Cooking: 20 mins
  • Skill level: Easy
  • Servings: 6

Description Stuffed Snails Steamed with Lemongrass (Ốc Nhồi Hấp Lá Sả)

A northern specialty, Stuffed Snails Steamed with Lemongrass (Oc Nhoi Hap La Sa) traditionally features “ốc bươu” (apple snail), a freshwater mollusk with a shell that resembles the escargot shells sold in plastic tubes at gourmet markets. The chewy mollusk meat is made into a stuffing with mushroom and scallion and then steamed in the original shells with strips of ginger or lemongrass leaves. To eat the snails, you pull up the leaves, which lifts out the stuffing, and then you dip the stuffing into a ginger-lime sauce. Finally, you pour the aromatic cooking juice left over in the shell into a spoon and sip it like a fine consommé.
Because fresh Vietnamese snails aren’t available in the States, I replicate this delicious Vietnamese dish with frozen apple snail or periwinkle meat. The yellowish chunks are sold in one-pound packages at Chinese and Vietnamese markets; sometimes periwinkle is available thawed and
packed in Styrofoam trays. (Or, substitute conch or other sea snails normally used for chowder.) Without shells to stuff, I use ceramic egg cups or tall sake cups. The presentation isn’t as provocative, but it is still lovely. Ribbons cut from lemongrass stalks, more aromatic and more readily available than ginger leaves, harness the stuffing in the cups and give the cooking juices a heady citrus flavor.

Ingredients

  • ½ pound frozen apple snail or periwinkle meat, thawed overnight in the refrigerator
  • Salt for refreshing snail meat, plus ½ teaspoon
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed, and chopped
  • ¼ cup minced scallion, white and green parts (about 2 medium scallions)
  • ⅛ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • ½ pound (scant 1 cup) Multipurpose Meat Paste
  • 1 hefty lemongrass stalk
  • ⅔ cup Ginger-Lime Dipping Sauce

Method Stuffed Snails Steamed with Lemongrass (Ốc Nhồi Hấp Lá Sả)

1, To make the stuffing, first you must refresh the snail meat. Put it in a colander and toss with a liberal amount of salt. Rinse immediately under lots of cold water and press gently to drain well. Chop the snail meat into pea-sized pieces. Place in a bowl and add the mushrooms, scallion, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, and ginger. Using a rubber spatula, mix in the meat paste, binding all the ingredients together.
2, Fill a steamer pan halfway with water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Lower the heat to keep the water hot. Cut off the base and peel off individual layers of the lemongrass stalk. Using scissors, cut each layer into ribbons ¼ inch wide and 7 inches long. You will need 24 ribbons, 2 for each cup. If the ribbons don’t bend easily, return the water in the steamer to a boil and blanch them for 30 seconds; lower the heat once you’re done.
3, Have ready 12 ceramic egg cups or sake cups. Cross 2 ribbons at a right angle to each other and push the midpoint of the cross into the bottom of a cup. (If 1 ribbon is stiffer than the other, put it on top to keep both ribbons in place.) There will be 4 equal lengths of lemongrass ribbon extending beyond the rim of the cup. To prevent the ribbons from shifting, hold the neck of the cup between your index and middle fingers, while using your thumb to hold down one end of the ribbon on top.
Use a spoon to stuff about 2½ tablespoons of the snail mixture into the cup. Don’t stuff the mixture tightly. You need to provide passageways for the steam to get to the bottom of the cup where the cooking juices will collect. Nicely mound the top, and if desired, smooth it out with a finger dipped in water. Repeat with the remaining ribbons and stuffing. Place the filled cups in the steamer tray.
4, Return the steamer to a boil. Place the steamer tray over the boiling water, cover, and steam for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the stuffing has risen slightly, a sign of doneness. Using tongs, remove the cups from the steamer and let cool for 1 minute before serving.
5, Serve each person 2 cups. Accompany with individual shallow bowls of the sauce.

Chef's Note

The stuffing may be prepared 3 to 4 hours in advance, covered, and refrigerated.
If you grow lemongrass, use its leaves instead of ribbons cut from the stalk to harness the stuffing. Simply cut 7-inch lengths of the softer blades that grow out of the stalk portion of the plant. You will need 24 lengths of leaves.

Read more Vietnamese Street Food: Vietnamese Sweet Potato Shrimp Fritters (Banh Tom Recipe)

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