Escargot À La Bourguinonne
Escargot (snails) are a food that is very closely associated with the French, smothered in garlic and served in their shells. And it is one of those Marmite dishes, that is we are either predisposed to love or loathe the thought of consuming them. I first tried my first plate of snails in Monte-Carlo, in the Loewes Hotel as it was then. I think it’s the Fairmont now. They had been highly recommended by a client and so I took the plunge. My 21-year-old philosophy thought that if I like whelks, winkles etc then snails would not be a problem. Fortunately I was right !
A dish of cooked land snails, usually served as an appetiser in France, escargot is a typical dish in the Catalan region of Spain as well. But not all species of land snail are edible, and many are far too small to make the effort of preparing and cooking them even vaguely worthwhile. In France, the species Helix pomatia is most often eaten, but the “petit-gris” Helix aspersa is also eaten, as is Helix lucorum.
Snails have been eaten since prehistoric times because their shells have been found in a number of archaeological digs, particularly around the Mediterranean. According to Pliny, the Romans, in particular, loved them and considered escargot an elite food. The edible species Otala lactea has been recovered from a site in present-day Morocco which dates back to the Roman occupation of this provincial capital, and prior to that, a very highly developed ancient civilization from its days as a Phoenician and Carthaginian colony. Like most molluscs, escargot is high in protein and low in fat content (if cooked without butter). Escargot contains approximately 15% protein, 2.4% fat and about 80% water.
In France, the snails are purged, killed, removed from their shells, and cooked (usually with garlic butter, chicken stock or wine), and then placed back into the shells with the butter and sauce for serving. Additional ingredients may be added, like more garlic, thyme, parsley and pine nuts. Special snail tongs (for holding the shell) and snail forks (for extracting the meat) are also normally provided. The purging, to empty them of any undesirable stomach contents, is usually done simply by feeding them a wholesome diet, and can take several days. Farms producing Helix aspersa for sale have sprouted in Europe and the United States. In the late 1980s, escargot represented a $300 million a year business in the United States alone.
In Maltese cuisine, snails of the petit gris variety are simmered in red wine or ale with mint, basil and marjoram and served in their shells. Caro personally does not care for snail stew because of both the texture and taste, which she describes as rubbery, but both of us are addicted to garlic so the traditional method suits us!
ESCARGOTS À LA BOURGUIGNONNE
Poached snails returned to their shells and baked in a hot oven with lashings of garlic and herb butter
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- 100g of unsalted butter
- A small handful of freshly chopped parsley
- A splash of white wine
- A spash of cognac
- 4 cloves garlic,minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- A pinch of sea salt
- A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 24 extra-large snail shells
- 24 canned extra-large snails
- Firstly we need to make the butter. Place the softened butter into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the parsley, wine, cognac, garlic, and shallots combine with a fork.
- Season with salt and pepper
- Shape the butter mixture into a sausage shape, wrap in clingfilm then put in the fridge overnight.
- When you are ready to cook the snails pre heat the oven to 220o/gas mark 7
- Using a knife, slice the butter, allowing two disks per shell then gently spoon 1 disk of butter mixture into each shell.
- Open the can of snails and push one snail into each shell then ﬁll the shells with remaining butter disks.
- Cover a baking pan with a layer of rock salt. Arrange snail shells butter side up on salt this stops them slipping around.
- Bake in the oven until butter is bubbling for about 12 minutes.
- Serve snails in a snail dish and serve with hunks of crusty bread
- Fabulous as a starter
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