Eat More Snails.
For Julia's birthday, I thought it only fitting to make a dish that's 1) almost comically French, 2) amazingly delicious, and 3) intensely easier than people think. Quit paying $15 for six little snails in a fancy ceramic plate at your local wine bar and start making them for Sunday afternoon snacks or a fabulous appetizer for your guests.
yes, you should eat snails. Don't be a wimp. Think of them as mussels that eat lettuce instead of algae.
yes, you use canned snails. That's what *literally* everyone does, whether home or restaurant, U.S.A. or France. Show me a restaurant that makes "fresh" snails, and I'll show you a $90 plate of escargots. Just buy a decent brand (honestly, Roland is perfect and cheap) and you're fine.
you do not need to buy "snail shells" to stuff. I (and most of the French café's I've been to) just cook them in a small skillet or casserole. As much as I loathe spending lots of money on silly things, this is what I use for escargots, and it's perfect. It was given as a gift, so I don't personally recommend buying a $50 snail-baker, but something like that - small, shallow, heavy ceramic or cast iron, and ideally lidded - is ideal. But above all, this is not a fussy dish - you can literally make it in anything oven-safe.
I soak them in fresh cold salted water for 15-30 minutes to take the "can-funk" out of them before I cook them. Totally optional, but makes them a tiny bit nicer.
Step one: make the Snail Butter
This stuff is magic - it's called "snail butter" simply because it's used on snails. Honestly though, I make a big batch of this and freeze it and put it with everything from hot pasta to steamed vegetables to roasted chicken. Anything cooked "á l'escargot" isn't made with snails, but rather made like snails - meaning using snail butter.
This recipe makes enough for 1 can of about 2 dozen snails, give-or-take. Triple it and freeze it in logs like cookie dough if you want to use it often. You'll notice it's pretty loose as a recipe, too - you don't need to measure at all, just wing it - it will taste great.
4oz soft, room-temperature butter (the best you've got)
2 heaping tablespoons (or so) minced fresh garlic
3 heaping tablespoons (or so) minced fresh shallots
3 heaping tablespoons (or so) minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon cognac
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until evenly combined. Chill until needed, or freeze for storage.
Step two: T-10min to snail time.
Heat the oven to 450.
Empty a can of fat lovely snails into a strainer and rinse well. Optionally, soak for 15-30 minutes in cold, salty water.
In an oven-safe dish, distribute fairly evenly your snail butter (about a half-cup of the mixture, if you're splitting from a larger batch). Add your snails, evenly distributed, to their vehicle. Cover the dish (with a lid, or , lacking that, tinfoil).
Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, until you can hear noisy sizzling under the lid.
Move the dish to a trivet/folded towel/serving board, uncover, and serve family-style with lots of bread.
Optionally, just before serving, you could stir in a few spoonfuls of heavy cream (or better yet, creme fraîche). Be careful though - the butter and the dish will be treacherously hot.
That's it. Crack open some white Burgundy and eat snails all afternoon. C'est parfait.