Snails may not be everyone’s idea of a culinary delicacy, but this flavorful French dish has converted generations of skeptics.
History of Snails
Though they may not be as popular today, snails have been a part of the human diet since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have found remnants of snail shells around human cooking pits dating as far back as 30,000 years ago. The ancient Romans even farmed snails for culinary purposes. Snails were considered a delicacy, and farmed snails would be fed wheat and herbs to fatten them up for human consumption.
By the Middle Ages, French monasteries were farming snails alongside their wine vineyards. They were often boiled and eaten with bread or, if you were feeling particularly fancy, fried with onions and liquor. Snails fell out of popularity in the late 1500s but saw a revival in the 1800s, when chef Marie-Antoine Carême served a dish of escargot prepared with butter, garlic, and parsley to the tsar of Russia. Escargot came back in favor with the Parisians and has been a staple in French menus since.
Taste and Texture of Snails
Because the taste of the snails is so mild, they easily take on the flavors of the sauce they’re cooked in. On their own, escargot has a slightly sweet, shellfish-like flavor with a hint of earthiness. Their taste is deeply reminiscent of clams or oysters with an undertone akin to mushrooms.
The classic recipe for French escargot involves cooking them in a garlic and butter sauce, typically with a little wine and parsley or thyme. Serve them with a small pair of tongs for extracting the snail meat from their shells.
Snails are also enjoyed in other parts of the world, primarily along the Mediterranean and in Africa. In Malta, snails are cooked in alcohol and seasoned with mint, marjoram, and basil. In Nigeria, snail dishes are called Congo meat and one particularly popular recipe calls for fried snails coated in a spicy pepper sauce.