30 December 2012

Escargots à la bourguignonne

We didn't make these. We just bought them off the drive-up butcher truck. All we had to do was figure out a way to re-heat them. We did, and they were delicious.

The green stuff in each shell is, of course, "snail butter" — beurre à la bourguignonne or beurre pour escargots dits à la bourguignonne is what the Larousse Gastronomique calls it. It's a beurre composé made with chopped parsley and garlic, and again according to the LG, a good bit of diced shallot.

Snails fattened, purged, cooked, and stuffed back into their shells
with plenty of parsley-garlic butter

We in the English-speaking world smile slyly or even chuckle about crazy French people who eat... ewwwh!... snails. But the LG says it was the ancient Romans who figured out how to fatten and prepare them to make them edible. Blame (or credit) goes to a man named Fluvius Lupinus. Of course, snails were also a part of the diet of prehistoric peoples.

Snails gathered in the wild have to be purged and fattened so that they are safe to eat. That's because the snails might have eaten plants that are toxic to the human digestive system, and they can also have sand and grit in their digestive tract. So they spend two or three days in a controlled environment, first fasting and then feasting on aromatic herbs, flour, bread crumbs, and/or corn meal, to clean out their systems. That diet also fattens them up.

Snails, beautiful snails (at least the shells are beautiful)

Snail meat is not very nourishing, according to the LG, but it contains a lot of vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium, along with other minerals. It's the "vineyard snail" — l'escargot des vignes — that is considered the best. It's also called l'escargot de Bourgogne. I think that's what we bought, not the smaller, darker-shelled snail called le petit gris, which is also delectable.

Here they are re-heated and ready to eat.

We don't have the special snail dishes you need to hold the snails upright as they cook in the oven — you don't want all the parsley-garlic butter to run out of the shells — so we improvised. We put a layer of rice in a dish and pressed the shells down into it. It worked just fine. Then we just heated the snails up in the oven for 15 minutes. As I said, they were delicious. It's the butter, of course. The snails themselves don't have much flavor but their texture is good.

Our village actually has a snail festival every summer. Tons of snails are consumed. I did a post about snails I found in our garden a few years ago. I called them petits-gris, and I think that's what they are around here. There's a link in that post to a post about the snail festival in our village.


  1. Just for a change, Ken, one of your food posts hasn't got the saliva flowing... I've tried snails... but find their texture too much like whelks... which I associate with an English pub tradition - The Friday night Seafood salesperson, with their tray of jellied eels, rubbery winkles and whelks, mussels in vinegar and potted shrimps - of which the first and last were my favourites. But after a couple of pints of best... even whelks seemed edible. But cold eel with honey mustard... or potted shrimps in their butter and a mini-Hovis to accompany both... now I've got my tastebuds drooling!!

  2. No matter how hard I try, I just can't muster the enthusiasm for eating snails. I think I'll stick to garlic mushrooms, which have similsr butter and herbs but none of the creepy-crawly connotations !!

  3. These snails were not rubbery in the least! They were tender and good. We'll have them again.

  4. Clever idea for keeping the snails upright!

    Jean: we've been served a snail and mushroom in red wine sauce dish -- frankly, I was hard pressed to tell the difference between the mushroom bits and the snail bits, and it was delicious.

  5. As Walt said, these snails were not rubbery at all. That's probably because we got them from the expensive butcher, not from the supermarket where they cost one-fourth the price.

    I forgot to mention one possible explanation for why people in Burgundy became famous for eating snails: they are far from the sea, and snails were a food you could eat on Fridays.

    Jean, if you and Nick are here next July, we could go to the snail festival in our village and gorge on them!

    Tim, the snails that are really rubbery are those sea snails called bulots. But I like them. I've never had whelks in England, but we ate them in North Carolina, in chowder and slow cooked so that they were tender. It was called conch stew.

    Susan, I'd like to try the red wine sauce with snails. I'll look up some recipes.

  6. Ken, Bulots and Whelks are one and the same... Buccinum undatum.

    Mussels cooked in a blonde ale or a witbier with chopped onion or shallot and a few sprigs of fennel... now that IS a shellfish dish!!

    Poor Burgundians... they should have done what our region did and made fishponds... Carpe Frites and Frites beats Fish and Chips on Friday anyday!

  7. Our American whelks don't look like bulots, and we don't eat them the way they're eaten in France. Here's a link; we called them conchs but another name was the channeled whelk. Here's a recipe.

  8. I've had snails--here in the U.S., I think? And, I think they were served in a cream sauce. It was at a fancy-schmancy restaurant I worked at (where I was one of only two token women allowed to work the floor- which annoyed the heck out of me, because I was the only one who could pronounce the wine and French dishes correctly :))). The snails were a little chewy, but good, as I recall. Heaven knows what type they were.

    I'll bet yours smelled heavenly in the oven!


  9. The traveling butcher is enriching your table and our eyes! There is nothing Frenchier than escargot and these look delicious.

    I do think I saw some of these guys in your yard once or twice.

    1. Evelyn, right on both counts. As for the local snails, they ate big chunks out a cactus CHM brought us from the U.S. I guess they just spit out the spines. K.

  10. Ken

    Smart idea setting them on rice to stay upright.
    My non fancy way and I may be making a big mistake is to gather them on an aluminum pie plate and stick that plate in the oven. Whatever running butter left all around is scooped up by soaking pieces of bread. :-)

    1. Beav, sounds like your method works well too. K.

  11. This is my favorite kind of escargots!

  12. Lorsque j'étais enfant, nous allions ramasser des escargots en famille durant l'été et nous les consommions pendant les fêtes. Mais c'est surtout le beurre qui est délicieux. On peut en mettre simplement sur des pommes de terres cuites dans la braise, c'est simple et très bon.

  13. Looked at the link... definately whelk-like... and not whelk like at the same time... but both are predatory... the US version, in fact, looks as though it is a bit specialised.... the only ones I can find anywhere near it in looks are Mediterranean species... that long "beak" supports the siphon that they use to drill into their prey!

    I like the chowder recipe... I have had clam chowder in a restaurant... t'was very good.
    It might even get me eating whelks again... but a pound of whelk flesh... that's a mighty lot of Common Whelks!

  14. Nothing say "fetes de fin d'annee" like escargots.
    Are you going to cook the rice now that it has been infused with garlic and butter?
    (I also love the "escargots de Bourgogne" chocolates from Lanvin.

  15. Nadège, I did cook the rice. Callie may get most of it!

    As Olivier says in his comment, the garlic-parsley butter would be really good served on boiled or baked potatoes instead of snails. Or on mushroom caps baked in the oven.

    Tim, our U.S. whelks (conchs pronounced [conks]) get much larger than your bulots.


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