Snails have been eaten since prehistoric times as is evidenced at archaeological sites around the Mediterranean. And while the name may now be French, the Romans are known to have considered escargot an elite food, as noted in the writings of Pliny. The earliest recipes I found were the five listed in Alexandre Dumas’ Le grand dictionnaire de cuisine published in 1873. He says "The only distinction gourmands make between snails concerns where they are picked. Those found on grapevines are the most sought after and the best. The Romans were so fond of them they built special enclosures in which the snails were fattened on wheat and old wine to make them more digestible." So while we think of them as being one of the most recognizable symbols of French cuisine, they are really not as ubiquitous as we imagine even in France. They are readily available in almost any food store in France, but they usually occupy only a small amount of shelf space. Paris bistros and brasseries will often list them on their menus as escargots de Bourgogne, which I have prepared and discuss below.
|Roman Snail Tile - Aquileia Basilica|
Most restaurants use canned snails for this dish and you can too. Note however that most canned snails come without shells, and for a proper appetizer you'll probably want to purchase shells for the presentation which are usually available from the same company that cans the snails. A quick search of Amazon does indeed locate the snails, shells, specialized dish and forks for this service. Check your snail packaging carefully to determine if you need to purchase the shells separately.
|Julian's Escargot Before Baking|
As with most things, the canning process cooks the snails so your preparation can be brief and easy as they are ready for use right out of the can. Simply drain the canning liquid and rinse them. I like to make a compound butter of finely chopped herbs (usually parsley), shallots and minced garlic, along with some salt and pepper. You can do this easily with your mixer or by hand. I stuff a little of the compound butter well up into the shell, then add the canned snail closing up the opening with more compound butter. I typically do this well in advance of dinner, but on the same day, and then refrigerate them.
Specialized snail dishes are ideal, but they can be served without this if you have dishes in which you can arrange the shells so they stay upright, as shown in the photo. They are easy to pop into a hot oven for service at the table in under 5 minutes, heating them without letting the butter brown. Be sure to provide some crusty bread for dipping of the sauce.
|Ready to Eat!|