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Escargot

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Escargot is a dish of cooked land snails, usually served as an appetizer. The word is also sometimes applied to the living snails of those species which are commonly eaten. Escargot is the French word for snail.

Left: Escargots de Bourgogne, ready to be eaten.

Not all species of snail are edible, but many are. Even among the edible species, the palatability of the flesh varies from species to species. In France, the species Helix pomatia is most often eaten. The "petit-gris" Helix aspersa is also eaten, as is Helix lucorum.

In Western culture, typically the snails are removed from their shells, gutted, cooked (usually with garlic butter or chicken stock) and then poured back into the shells together with the butter and sauce for serving, often on a plate with several shell-sized depressions. Additional ingredients may be added such as garlic, thyme, parsley and pine nuts. Special snail tongs (for holding the shell) and snail forks (for extracting the meat) are also normally provided.

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Like most mollusks, escargot is high in protein and low in fat content (if cooked without butter). It is estimated that escargot is 15% protein, 2.4% fat and about 80% water.

Left: Plate of escargot, with tongs and fork.

Because a typical snail diet includes decayed matter, carrion, and a wide variety of leaves, the contents of their stomachs can sometimes be toxic to humans. Therefore, before they are cooked, the snails are first prepared by purging them of the questionable contents of their digestive systems. The process used to accomplish this varies, but generally involves a combination of fasting and purging or simply feeding them on a wholesome replacement. The methods most often used can take several days. Farms producing Helix aspersa for sale exist in Europe and in the United States. Farm-raised snails are typically fed a diet of ground cereals.

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