Escargot – The History Of French Snail

Snails are common in France, where they’re called “escargot”. These edible land snails are often served in their shells as an appetizer. 

Although the dish is a favorite delicacy among the French, escargot is not at all exclusive to France. It is also eaten in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Great Britain. It is consumed in Asia, too. 

Escargot – The History Of French Snail

french escargot history + recipe
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VIEW STORY: HISTORY OF THE FRENCH SNAILS – ESCARGOT

This famous specialty is often associated with France mainly because the French are the world’s biggest snail-eaters, with the Portuguese lagging behind them.

In France, you can buy snails in cans, with a carton of empty shells attached and even plates to serve them on.

Such is the popularity of this delicacy that there’s even a special day to honor it – the National Escargot Day, celebrated every 24th of May.

History of Escargot

french snail

Humans have been eating land snails since prehistoric times, long before the practice of heliciculture (snail farming) was known. The process of farming these mollusks for human consumption was first practiced in an area located in what is now Italy.

And although escargot is commonly identified with France, the first known consumption of snails occurred in Spain – about 10,000 years earlier than France and other neighboring countries.

All the major edible snail species have always thrived in the French countryside. With the abundance of these mollusks in the area, they became an extra food source that was important for survival and adaptation of ancient humans from this side of the world. Its popularity among in France didn’t waver and just kept on growing until the modern era.

The word “escargot” is derived from the Provençal “escaragol” and the Old French “escargol.”  Both terms are said to have been influenced by words related to scarab

In 1892, the use of the word “escargot” to mean “edible snail” was first recorded in English.

Variations of Escargot

Escargot de Bourgogne

Not all species of land snail are edible. And while many are, not all are worthy of the honor of gracing your table. They have to be palatable and just the right size. 

In France, Helix pomatia species is the most often used in the delicacy, followed by Cornu aspersa (also called “petit-gris”) and Helix lucorum. 

Escargots are eaten all over France, but it’s most popular in Paris and, of course, Burgundy where these gastropods were originally most abundant.

There are variations of the dish, but the most popular all over France is the escargots à la bourguignonne (Burgundy escargots) – the classic French escargot. This dish is traditionally cooked with garlic butter and parsley.

A popular alternative to the Burgundy escargots is the escargots à la bordelaise or Bordeaux-style escargots. In this specialty, snails are cooked in a meat and white wine broth. 

Escargots vol-au-vent are another popular snail delicacy. These are puffed pastry with garlic butter and escargots stuffings, topped with mushroom caps. These are a favorite appetizer not only in France but in Belgium and the Netherlands as well.

A less common type of escargot is called bulots, which is served with garlic mayonnaise instead of the traditional garlic butter. It’s also one of the strange dishes that you can try in France. 

Another not-so-common escargot dish is the cargolades, a specialty in southern France, close to the Spanish border. Cargolades are snails grilled in their shells, a dish strongly influenced by the neighboring Catalan people.

Escargot FAQs

escargot

1. What is the difference between “snail” and “escargot”?

Snails in French are called escargot. Snails are also translated as “limaçon” or “limace.”

However, the term “escargot” usually means an edible snail and it’s also the name for the dish made of edible land snails.

Limaçon is a snail not for consumption. Limace, on the other hand, is a slug or a snail without a shell, which is also inedible. So basically if you’re served slugs for dinner, you are eating les limaces, not les escargots

2. Why is escargot so expensive?

It’s not cheap to get the perfect snails to serve you. Snails are not merely caught in the garden; they’re cultivated in special farms. Plus, escargot takes time to prepare. 

3. How are escargots prepared before cooking?

Snails are put on fasting for three days and only fed with water. For the next seven days, they are purified by adding flour to their diet. Once purified, that’s the only time they can be cooked.

4. Is it safe to eat escargot? 

Snails, especially those caught in the wild, sometimes carry parasites like nematodes. But with proper cleaning and cooking, escargot is pretty safe to eat.

If you’re unsure of the nail species, where they came from, and how they were prepared, it’s best to take a pass. Safest option is to only to eat at reputable restaurants that serve them. 

5. What does escargot taste like? 

Escargot’s taste and texture are generally described as resembling those of clams. However, some also claim escargots taste like chicken or fish – with a touch of mushroom. 

6. How many snails are eaten in France each year?

It is estimated that the French devour somewhere between 16,000 and 25,000 tons of escargots annually. That’s about 5 to 7 million snails every year.

7. How do you eat escargots?

To eat this famous French dish, you need tongs and a fork. Escargots are not eaten in a hurry. Hold the shells with tongs, then twist the fork to take the meat from the shell. Savor and enjoy!

8. What are the benefits of eating escargot

Escargots have antioxidants, anti-cancer properties, and anti-inflammatory effects.

They are also low-fat and protein-rich, containing vitamins E, A, K and B12, as well as essential fatty acids, calcium, iron, selenium, and magnesium.

Quick and Easy Classic French Escargots Recipe

This French appetizer takes 10-15 minutes to prepare and another 15 minutes to cook. This particular recipe yields 4 servings. Snails should be de-shelled and de-slimed prior to cooking.

Ingredients:

24 snails

1/4 cup butter

1 garlic clove, minced

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup parsley, minced

Salt

Ground black pepper

Instructions: 

1. Heat your oven to 375°F. 

2. Mash the butter with the minced garlic, shallot, and parsley to a smooth paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Put a little garlic butter paste in each shell before stuffing in a snail, then top it off with as much paste as you can. 

4. Arrange the shells to make sure they’re steady.

5. Bake for about 15 minutes and serve hot.

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