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.
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.
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