Thursday, July 19, 2012

Escargots - Snails. Snails on French Menus. How to Order Snails in France.

from
Behind the French Menu
by
Bryan G. Newman
  Updated August 2017.
  

Snails
www.flickr.com/photos/kinlane/8292370304/

The snail family.

Ordering snails in France should not be strange. If you like seafood that includes winkles, periwinkles, cockles, mussels, and conchs, etc.; they are all in the same family as snails, in fact, they are very close family members.

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 central and very obvious difference is that escargots grow on the land and not in the sea.


Photograph courtesy of                              Photograph  courtesy of
    Adem Djemil                                                    Celine Asril

     
The Burgundy Snail                     The Blue Mussel

            
The meat of all the members of the snail and their seafood family members family is similar; however, when asked, I do not say they taste like chicken! The texture of snail meat is like that of their family members. The sauce and cooking method, exactly like many chicken dishes, may change the taste.
   
If you like mussels and or cockles, you will love snails, and if you have been to the Caribbean and enjoyed conchs you will love France's snails even more,

What did the Romans ever do for us?
Well, the Romans brought us edible snails.
          
The two snails on French menus have been natives of France, Germany, Spain and the UK since the Roman’s brought their favorite snacks with them 2,000 years ago. The Romans taught the French how to manage snail farms and also invented a method of creating artificial rain to make the snails and the snails’ favorite foods grow faster. 

These same snails became natives of California during 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.

Snails in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan -caragols de terra ),  (Dutch -slakken), (German - schnecke), (Italian – lumache or conchiglia), (Spanish – caracoles).
  


Escargots à la Bourguignonne.
Snails in the manner of Burgundy.
Photograph by courtesy of Panduh.

Trying snails for the first time.

If you are reticent about trying snails, do not order a whole portion, snails are sold in dozens, and 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.  Just like when you first ordered mussels order a small portion. 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 will bring you half a dozen snails cooked in the style of Burgundy; France’s most famous 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.


Escargots à la Bourguignonne
A half dozen snails prepared in the manner of Burgundy.
Here they are served without their shells.
Photograph by courtesy of Nicknamemiket
    
For that first test take some of that excellent French bread on your table and dip it into the sauce that comes with the snails; just try 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.
   
While France has a number of edible land snails, only two are seen in the market, and on restaurant menus; they are farm-raised snails; you may also see organically raised snails on some menus. Snails may be served with a broad range of recipes, and all traditional restaurants or bistros will have at least one snail recipe on the menu.
  
Snails on French menus:

Cassolette de Scampis et Escargots à la Crème d'Ail - A very different dish to the traditional meat and poultry cassoulets from the south; in fact, there is no connection, none whatsoever.   Here the scampi, in French langoustine, the Dublin Bay Prawn will have been shelled and served with petit gris snails cooked in a cream of garlic sauce.
   
Escargot a l’Alsacienne – Snails in the manner of the Alsace. The snails will be cooked in the Alsatian white Riesling wine and served with snail butter. This dish will usually be prepared with the smaller petit-gris snail.
   

Escargot a l’Alsacienne
Snails in the manner of the Alsace.
Photograph courtesy of Jun Sugahara,
  
Escargot à la Provencal Snails served in the manner of Provence.  These will be the smaller petit-gris snails served in a fresh tomato sauce, flavored with garlic, pepper, and parsley.
      
Escargots à la Bourguignonne – Snails in the manner of Burgundy. This is the most famous of all snail recipes. Snails prepared with herbs, especially 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.  This sauce is a garlic flavored but is certainly not an overtly garlicky sauce; it is made with cold and crushed, but previously boiled garlic cloves, that significantly reduces garlic’s strength. Snail butter, by the way, does not and never did contain any snails; this special butter sauce will be used in 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.
   

Escargots à la Bourguignonne.
Photograph by courtesy of Dion Hinchcliffe
                           
Soupe d'Escargots – Snail soup; usually made with the petit gris snail with a light garlic flavor.
         
Cassoulet d’Escargots –  There are many recipes for Cassoulet d”Escargot with most including butter, garlic, shallots, parsley, and crème fraiche. Some will include mushrooms and others different herbs. None of the recipes have any connection to the cassoulets made with pork, goose, and sausages.


Une Cassolette d'Escargots – Snail cassoulet.
                             
Salade d'Escargots de Vendée Bio et Andouille de Guéméné. - A salad of organically raised snails from the department of Vendée and served with France's popular Andouille tripe sausages. The andouilles served here are reconsidered the top of the line Guémené Andouilles from Guémené-sur-Scorff in Brittany.  Andouille sausages are an acquired taste but one of France's favorites. The department of Vendée is in the region of the Pays-de-la-Loire and on France's Atlantic coast. Vendée is internationally famous for its bi-annual single handed around the Vendée Globe world yacht race with upwards of 400 participants.

The snails on your menu will be one of the following:
                        
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.

The Burgundy snail in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan -  caragol de Borgonya ), (Dutch -  wijngaardslak  ), German - burgunder schnecke, gros bourgogne, gros blanc),   (Italian - vignaiola bianca , lumaca della Borgogna,  ), (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 locally used for the petit gris are traditional.  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.

(Catalan - caragol bover or caragol moro ), (Dutch - segrijnslak),(German - kleinen grauen ),  (Italian - la ligure, chiocciola zigrinata,  la piccola lumaca grigia,), (Spanish – caracol europeo marron, burgajo), (Latin - helix aspersa).
  
Only farmed snails will be on the menu.
                          
These ancient Roman comfort foods are today found in the wild all over Europe and North America, and I am sure that others are in the wild on other continents. Despite the obvious draw of tasty free food chefs do not cook wild snails; all the snails served in France are farmed.  Farming snails insure that the food they are fed does not include any agricultural pesticides, and those may be found in wild snails. If you cook snails at home, then buy them canned or from a local snail farm that you can trust.

France does not farm enough snails for export,
They have to import for local consumption.

Most of the North American supply of snails come 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, mostly from Eastern Europe, to meet demand.
         
Apart from many menus in West and Eastern Europe; snails are also part of the diet in most Central and South American countries.  The recipes for snails in Central and South America may have been influenced by the Conquistadors, but their consumption had begun much earlier, with local snail varieties.

Large tasty African snails will be on sale in French supermarkets.
      
In Africa, snails are also part of the local diet, and some very large snails are raised commercially. These large African snails may be seen when canned, precooked, and sold as chopped snails.  If the label doesn’t say Petit gris or Bourgogne, then the odds are that they will be one of those big, farmed, African snails. I have been told that these cheaper canned snails are used by some small restaurants in snail soups and by taste alone cannot be detected.  The Chinese are also farming and exporting fresh and canned Bourgogne snails; a la Chinoise!

Snail recipes

France's chefs have hundreds of snail recipes, many more than I could put in this post, it would need at least one separate book, possibly two. In the south of France, snails will often be barbecued at family get togethers, especially in areas with Catalan influences.  In the north of France, snails may be on the menu as snail profiteroles, that is snails cooked, each in its own pastry casing, and served with sauce. When you begin to enjoy snails, which you will, a whole new world will open up. To see the most popular snail recipes just enter the words “recettes escargot” on Google or Bing and  you will have hundreds to choose from.

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Bryan G. Newman
 
Behind the French Menu.
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