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Escargot Recipes & History

Ingredients for 4 people:

 

- Escargot

- Butter

- Garlic

- Herbs

image

 


 

 

Preparation Time: see below

Cooking Time: see below

 

 

 

Overview:

 

Escargot is French for “snail”. There are many recipes for escargot, but they generally follow the same outline:

  1. Purge and clean the snails

  2. Cook them in boiling water

  3. Remove the snail flesh from the shell

  4. Make a butter, garlic and herb mixture

  5. Place some of the mixture in the bottom of the empty snail shell, then add the snail flesh, then fill the remaining space with the mixture

  6. Place the stuffed snails on a baking tray and then cook them in the oven

  7. Serve the snails. Escargot is eaten with a small thin fork, which is used to extract the flesh from the shell. Special tongs are available to hold the shell while this is done; while useful they are not absolutely necessary.

In practice, almost everyone buys escargot partially or completely prepared. Just as the vast majority of people (in western countries) buy chickens which are already plucked and gutted, most people cooking escargot would buy then after the first 3 steps have already been completed, and often the first 5 steps (in which case one only needs bake them in the over).

Notes:

 

Escargot Preparation

 

As discussed below, even edible snails can have an unpleasant taste or become poisonous, depending on what they have eaten (this is more a consideration with wild snails, as it is unlikely that farmed snails would be fed poisonous plants). Consequently, prior to cooking them, there is a preparation stage to purge them. There are two generally accepted approaches to this:

  • The traditional method of purging snails begins with a fasting period of 5 or 6 days, during which they are kept in a wooden box. They are then washed with running water. After this, they are put in a big container, with a handful of salt between each layer of snails (the salt causes them to disgorge themselves, producing a foam). Finally they are carefully washed again.

  • With farm-raised snails, a simpler approach which does not require salt can be used instead. Place the snails in a box with a grating in the bottom (so that moisture is not retained), with the box raised above the ground (so that the snails do not have any contact with soil or vegetation). Each day wash then thoroughly with running water, for two or three days. If they are fed with dill during this period, they will acquire the pleasant taste of dill.

 

After either of the above methods, the snails have been purged of any unpleasant substances. They are then cooked in boiling water for 3 minutes, removed from the water and then the meat is removed from the shells. The hepatopancreas organ (this organ is part of the digestive tract of snails, and has a similar function to the liver and pancreas found in higher animals) is then removed (although with the Petit Gris, some people prefer to leave the organ attached). The flesh is then put in brine (cold water saturated with salt) for a quarter-hour, then removed and washed thoroughly in fresh water. The meat is now ready for cooking or freezing.

 

Escargot is most commonly baked and served in the shells, although there are a number of recipes which do not involve the shells. If you are using the shells, they will need to be thoroughly cleaned (inside and out), then boiled to sterilise them.

 

Escargot: Already prepared

 

The above procedure requires several days and considerable work. Consequently, most people buy the snail meat already prepared. One can either buy the meat (fresh, canned or frozen) on its own (ready to cook) or one can buy them completely ready-made for baking (with the flesh prepared, then stuffed back in the shell with butter, flavoured with garlic and herbs).

 

Escargot in France

 

The French reportedly consume approximately 40 000 tons of escargot each year, making them the world's largest consumers of escargot. Much of this is imported, as the French are currently (2006) unable to produce enough snails domestically to meet the demand. Consumption is particularly high during festive times (e.g. New Year) as escargot is a somewhat expensive delicacy.


History:

 

Although mainly considered a French dish, escargot (snails) have been eaten for many thousands of years. Large quantities of empty shells have been found in the caves of prehistoric man, indicating that in various parts of the world they were a common part of the diet at that time. With the rise of civilisation, various cultures (including the Greeks and Romans) have continued to eat snails, often considering them a delicacy.

 

Today there are over 100 different types of edible snails (with 116 different types being the most quoted number). In France, only two types are commonly eaten: the 'Petit-Gris' (which is French for 'Little-Gray', and is scientifically known as Helix Aspersa) and the 'Escargot de Bourgogne' (which is French for 'Burgundy Snail ', and is scientifically known as Helix Pomatia). It is possible to collect snails from the wild and eat them, provided you know which ones are edible and where to find them. In France there is a hunting season for edible snails, and they can only be collected during this time. Although restricting snail collection to this hunting period is intended to protect the wild snail population, here and elsewhere in the world the population has been reduced through over-collecting.

 

If collecting snails from the wild, considerations include:

  • Some snails are protected (due to population decline) and cannot be legally taken. Others may have a hunting season, which is the only time they can be collected.

  • Not all snails are edible. Some have an unpleasant taste, while other are poisonous. If collecting wild snails, take local advice to avoid a disappointing meal (or worse).

  • The taste of wild snails is affected by what they eat. If they happen to have eaten poisonous plants, they will also become poisonous until the poison has been purged from them (see the above section on Preparation).

 

The increasing scarcity of wild snails (and associated costs of collection) has promoted the creation and growth of snail farms, which now grow a proportion of the snails for public consumption. Breeding of edible snails has focused almost entirely on the 'Petit-Gris' rather than the 'Escargot de Bourgogne' . For more information (and pictures on snail breeding) click on Escargot Breeding. The technical term for farming snails is heliciculture.

 
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