Escargot, the French word for snail, is a delicacy around the world but the French in particular enjoy it the most. It cannot be eaten until an extensive preparation process is complete to make sure it is safe. Escargot is usually prepared simply, baked in a garlic butter sauce.
Humans have been eating snails for thousands of years. Large numbers of snail shells have been excavated in prehistoric caves, indicating they were likely once part of our daily diet. Over time, escargot evolved into a delicacy that the Greeks and Romans especially enjoyed. Snail shells have been found throughout the Mediterranean and in Florida.
There are more than 100 kinds of edible snails. In the wild, some varieties can taste bad or even be poisonous, depending on what they have eaten. The snail's diet typically includes carrion and other decayed matter, which can contain bacteria that is harmful to humans. Farmed snails are usually quite safe and have a pleasant taste. In France, there is actually a hunting season for wild snails in order to protect the dwindling population. Some kinds are protected and cannot be hunted. The two main types eaten in France are "Petit Gris" (little gray) and "Escargot de Bourgogne" (Burgundy snail).
The French eat more escargot than any other nationality, consuming 40,000 tons per year. Domestic snail production is not enough to meet the high demand, so the French also rely on imported snails. Escargot is particularly popular for New Year's celebrations.
Wild snails must be "purged" before they are considered edible. They are kept in a wooden box without being fed for five to six days. After washing, the snails are layered with salt, which causes them to purge, which appears as a white foam. Then the snails are washed again. Farm-raised snails often skip the salting step and are kept in a cage with a wire bottom. They are washed for two to three days with fresh water. During this period, snail farmers often feed them dill, which flavors them when eaten. Many cooks opt for prepared escargot so they do not have to go through all of the preparation first.
Escargot should be boiled alive for three minutes. After cooking, the meat is removed from the shell and the hepatopancreas, a part of the digestive tract, is removed. The meat is then soaked in brine for 15 minutes. At this point, the escargot can be cooked or frozen for later use.
Escargot is sometimes served in the shell, which must be thoroughly cleaned inside and out and sterilized in boiling water first. Most escargot recipes are simple. They are usually served baked in a butter, garlic and herb sauce. Typically, escargot is eaten with a small, thin fork and is often served in a specialized dish with compartments for each individual snail.
- Photo Credit Ignis: Wikimedia Commons
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