Ready, Steady, Escargot!

By Leia Sharma

Fine dining in France can often include a plate of escargots, and refusing them could be socially detrimental. Here’s how to truly appreciate this offbeat delicacy.
Escargot is an edible land snail; a delicacy served in France’s Burgundy region, and also enjoyed in other European countries as well as the United States.

People have been eating snails for centuries. Escargot shells have been found in archaeological dig sites, which means snails have been a part of the homo sapien diet since prehistoric times. Escargots were specially savoured by Romans, Mediterraneans, and Moroccans. The Romans even farmed snails to make sure the supply could meet the demand. In fact, it was the Romans who brought snails to France over 2,000 years ago, and even taught the French how to farm and grow them. European immigrants brought snails to the U.S.A., where they are also farmed and sold to restaurants.

Preparing snails to cook or to eat is not an easy task. The French usually kill the snails, purge their digestive systems, remove them from their shells, and cook them before placing them back into the shells to serve. But first the snails are made to fast on just water and then fed a wholesome diet, usually of water and flour, before being killed, to purge their intestines of anything we would not want to ingest. This means that the entire process can take several days, and for this reason, snails are considered a delicacy and can often be very expensive.

Snails are in the same family as mussels, conchs, and cockles, despite being land animals and not a type of seafood. They typically have a rubbery texture with a delicate, earthy taste. The snails are flavoured differently according to the region in which they are served. Order them à la bourguignonne to taste the flavours of the Burgundy region: in parsley, garlic, and shallot butter. They are also served skewered and grilled, or fricassee, fried with mushrooms. You can also order snail soup (soupe d’escargots), snail profiteroles, or barbecued snails.

If you’re wondering about the nutritional content of snails, escargots are high in protein and water content, and low in calories and fat. They are also high in iron, B12, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3. and who would have thought, but snail slime is even good for your skin!

Don’t make a social faux pas when ordering escargot at a restaurant: follow these top tips for proper social etiquette. A plate will typically have about six snails, served in their shells.

  • Firstly, hold the snail shell in the tong provided: do not use the tongs to crush the shells!
  • Hold the snail fork in your other hand and use it to pull out the snail meat.
  • If the snails have been served in a garlic butter sauce, dip the escargot into the sauce after extracting the meat.
  • If you have any butter left over, you may soak it up with pieces of bread.

The perfect wine pairing to go with escargots de Bourgogne would be either a dry white Bourgogne-Aligoté or a Marsannay rosé.


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