Behind the French Menu
In France, and the French know a thing or two about good food, snails are considered to be among the tastiest members of their extended family. The main and very obvious difference is that escargots grow on the land and not in the sea.
These same snails have been natives of California since the gold rush days when immigrants from France, Italy, Germany and Spain imported them and raised them as food. Now, in the USA, these snails are farmed and sold to restaurants; however, in the wild the descendants of the original snail immigrants are considered pests.(Catalan -caragols de terra ). (Dutch -slakken),
(German - schnecke), (Italian – lumache or conchiglia), (Spanish – caracoles),
Photograph by courtesy of Panduh.
Escargots à la Bourguignonne.
Snails in the manner of Burgundy.
If you are reticent about trying snails, do not order a whole portion, snails are sold in dozens; you may order just half-a-dozen in most restaurants. Ask. Consider dipping your little toe in first, just to test the water, and for that you do not even have to eat a snail. In France when you order your first half portion of snails, order a demi-douzaine d'escargot, the smallest portion sold, of Escargots à la Bourguignonne, snails prepared in the manner of Burgundy. Your order of une demi-douzaine d’Escargots à la Bourguignonne will bring you half dozen snails cooked in the manner of Burgundy; France’s most popular recipe snail recipe. The sauce in which the snails are cooked, and served, in this dish is half the enjoyment. The snails are always cooked outside the shell so if you do not like the shell I am sure they will do the necessary, many bistros, in any case, serve snails without the shell.
For that first test take some of that wonderful French bread on your table and dip it into the sauce that comes with the snails; then try just the bread and the sauce alone, without the snails. If you liked the bread and the sauce then, for your next test, try half a snail with the bread and the sauce. The combination of that excellent sauce with a tasty snail should be enough to have you hooked and already ordering another half-dozen snails to make up a whole portion.
If you are wondering which bread to eat with snails and snail sauce see the post:
Escargot de Bourgogne, Gros Blanc, Lunar or La Vignaiola - The Burgundy snail; also sometimes called the great white. These are the most expensive of the two snails that may be in contention. Burgundy snails have a striped yellow-brown meat and they may grow to about 4.5 cms; some may grow a little larger but these snails are considered at their best their best when around 20 grams each. German - burgunder schnecke, weissen weinbergschnecke, gros bourgogne, gros blanc), (Italian - vignaiola bianca , lumaca della Borgogna, lumaca delle vigne, elici romano, elici della mela), (Spanish - caracol romano), (Latin - helix pomatia ).
Petit-gris, Luma, Lumas, Chagriné, Carsaulada, Escargot Chagrine, La Zigrinata and Cargouille - The small gray snail or the common snail. In France the petit-gris is the most popular snail as it is the least expensive. This snail also has many more local names than the few I have noted above; every area of France has snail farms and the names used for the petit gris are often local names. If the menu just says escargot then the odds are that you are being offered the petit-gris. The petit-gris has brown-gray meat and they are ready for the pot when they reach around 10 grams each. (German - kleinen grauen ), (Italian - la ligure, chiocciola zigrinata, grigiolina dei giardini, maruzza, la piccola lumaca grigia,), (Spanish – caracol europeo marrón, chagrine, caracol común de jardín), (Latin - helix aspersa).
Escargots à la Bourguignonne – Snails in the manner of Burgundy; this is the most famous of all snail recipes. Snails prepared with herbs, parsley cream and beurre d’escargots, snail butter; snail butter is butter, garlic, shallots and parsley with an occasional additional herb, in which the snails are cooked. Snail butter, by the way, does not and never did contain any snails; this particular butter sauce will be used with many other dishes without snails. In Escargots à la Bourguignonne the snails are taken out of their shells, prepared, cooked, and then, optionally, replaced in their shells and lightly baked in the oven. This dish is about as close as you can get to snail heaven.
Snails in the manner of Burgundy
Gros Escargots de Bourgogne – This is the same as Escargots à la Bourguignonne. I took this from a restaurant’s menu; here they are advising you, or at least claiming, that their snails are larger than the standard.
Most of the North American supply of snails comes from local snail farms. Despite that, North American snail production it is still a growing industry and does not produce enough to meet the local demand. Even France has to import snails to meet demand.
France's chefs have hundreds of snail recipes, many more than I could put in this post, it would need a book at least. In the south of France snails will often be barbecued at family get togethers, especially in areas with Catalan influences, and in the north of France they may be on the menu as snail profiteroles, that is snails cooked, each in its own pastry casing, and then served with a sauce. When you begin to enjoy snails, which you will, a whole new world will open up.
The Burgundy snail is seeing the beginnings of a homegrown European competitor that, it is claimed, will cost less. This European hybrid snail is is called the Blond des Flandres; however, I have yet to see them on any menus.
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