Dining on Escargot


Credit: Wilson Hui /

If you watched “Pretty Woman” you probably remember the scene where Julia Roberts catapults an escargot with her fork and refers to the dish as “Slippery little suckers.” If you love escargots, you probably have refined, epicurean taste buds. More commonly referred to as snails, eating these creatures is an acquired taste.

How the French Prepare Escargot

Trust the French to create a glamorous dish out of the most humble ingredient: the snail. Not all snails are edible or considered acceptable for dining; the varieties that grace tables are the Helix pomatia, the Helix lucorum, and the Helix aspersa.

Getting the snails ready for a meal includes the dreary process of purging, killing, cleaning, and removing the meat from the shells. The meat is then cooked in garlic and butter and stuffed back into the shells. With escargot, presentation is a must, and the ”slippery little suckers” just lie there in their shells, all cleaned and buttered up. (This makes you wonder why Julia Roberts had such a hard time picking the escargot from its shell.)

Chef Simon (who raises escargot) shares his personal technique for preparing fresh escargot in Escargot Passion.

“… I put them in a box of white wood (wood without tannic acid) with a bottom grating and raised 15 cm (5 in) above the ground so they can never touch the ground (to prevent them from eating the dirt or anything else). The first evening I wash them thoroughly with a garden spout. That activates them so they empty their intestines. The same step I do on the second and sometimes third evenings.(Note : you can give them dill (anethum) these first two or three days to give them a good flavour). If they are very dirty, it may be necessary to wash them one by one. During next three days, I leave them to dry..

“After these three days or the salt treatment above, the escargots are put into boiling water where they are left for three minutes after water is boiling again. Then they are removed from their shells. The hepatho-pancreas (“tortillon” in french) can be cut off or not depending on preference. Lovers of the Petit Gris prefer the entire escargot whereas it is preferable to remove the hepatho-pancreas of the Gros Gris or other big species. The raw flesh is then put into cold water saturated with salt for one-quarter hour. They are rinsed thoroughly with fresh water after which they are ready for cooking or freezing.

“If you want to use the escargot shells, first wash them in soda powder, rinse several times and boil them to sterilise them…”

Enjoying Escargot

In Ever Epicurious’  Je t’aime Escargots, Lex Gueco, recounts her love affair with this iconic dish. “I went to Paris with my parents and sister for the summer. There I was, face-to-face with “escargot” on the menu at our local bistro. With curiosity, I ordered it, and devoured it. The succulent morsels were drenched in garlic parsley butter. The texture of snails is comparable to that of mussels, but the taste is more sumptuous with the addition of garlic parsley butter. Without hesitation, I mopped up all remnants of butter with torn pieces of baguette…”

Pairing Escargot with Wine

Thankfully, these “slippery little suckers are now available canned, frozen, or tinned. All you need would be the garlic butter and a good bottle of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. In The Best Wines for Escargot Day, Robert Johnson says, “Here in the States, I’ve encountered two basic preparations of escargot, and each calls for its own wine pairing partner.

“The less common preparation of the two involves cooking the snail meat in chicken stock, which serves to retain most of the natural flavor of the meat. When escargot is prepared this way, I recommend wines that one normally would select to accompany chicken: a crisp, minerally White Chablis, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio.

“The more common preparation involves bathing the snail in a rich butter sauce, typically infused with plenty of garlic. With this style of escargot, you can’t go wrong with a rich, buttery Chardonnay from California, or a dry rosé-style wine.

“If you add lemon instead of garlic to the butter sauce, it changes the flavor considerably, and it also changes the wine pairing. With this preparation, opt for Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or an “unoaked” style of Chardonnay…”

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